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Mme. Bernhardt in her Dressing-room during her Interpretation of 
La Gloire, by Maurice Rostand, in 1921. 

Photo, Henri Manuel.] 



The Memoirs of Madame Pierre Berton 

as told to BASIL WOON :: :: 





Mme. Bernhardt in her Dressing-room during her Inter- 
pretation of La Gloire, by Maurice Rostand, in 1921 



Baptismal Certificate of Sarah Bernhardt, May 21st, 

1846 30 

Sketch of Ther^se Meilhan (afterwards Mme. Pierre Berton) 

by Georges Clairin, 1881 - - - - 42 

Sarah Bernhardt. One of the best of the earliest pictures 64 

Pierre Berton, Husband of Mme. Berton, and one of Sarah's 

Earliest Intimate Friends . - - - 102 

Sarah Bernhardt in a Scene from La Tosca with Pierre 

Berton, when their Romance was at its Height - 112 

Sarah Bernhardt in Le Passant - - - - 114 

Letter of Congratulation from Victorien Sardou - - 154 

Sarah Bernhardt in Caricature - - - - 160 
Sarah Bernhardt (aged 30) and her Son, Maurice, on 

the only occasion when he acted with her - - 184 

Sarah Bernhardt in Theodora - - - - ig6 

Sarah Bernhardt in Hamlet ----- 202 

Sarah Bernhardt in Adrienne Lecouvreur - - - 224 

Sarah Bernhardt in Les Bouffons, 1906 - - - 260 

Sarah Bernhardt in her Studio Dress - - - 280 

Mme. Bernhardt's Sitting-room at her Last Home, 56, 

Boulevard Pereire, Paris - - - - 302 


Never was more apt the German proverb, " Truth is its own 
justification," than in the telling of the story of that most remark- 
able of women, Sarah Bernhardt. During her life, in spite of 
the fact that she enjoyed more widespread publicity than any 
other person, man or woman, remarkably little was known by 
the public of her real life story. The very extent of this world- 
wide publicity served, in fact, as a sort of smoke-screen to con- 
ceal the intimate personality of the woman it vaunted. 

To the playgoers of the world, and even to those who had never 
seen her act, Sarah Bernhardt was for ever acting a part. She 
shared her glory with the dozens of poets and playwrights whose 
inspired interpreter she was. The laurel wreath around her 
brow was of the same tinsel quality as the scenery which framed 
her personality. 

To the world, Sarah Bernhardt was the greatest tragedienne 
who had ever lived, and that was all. The " all," you will 
say, was a very great deal. I grant you that ; but when you 
have read this book I think you will say that the title of " great 
woman," which Sarah Bernhardt in reality earned, expresses 
her true personality far better than that of " greatest actress." 

It is hard to begin this work of telling the true, the inti- 
mate story of Sarah Bernhardt without laying oneself open 
to the charge of revealing secrets that were better left inviolate, 
of tearing down rather than building up the laborious character- 
structure of an international idol. But I refuse to allow these 


. ^ i 

viii Introduction 

first pages to become a justification— the work itself will be 
that. What I am attempting now is simply an explanation. 

If, in the course of this book, certain episodes are recounted 
that may possibly wound the feelings of those who worshipped 
Sarah as an actress, I would point out that the enthraUing story 
of her tremendous fight against the worst odds that ever faced 
a woman cannot be properly told if certain essential elements 
of her history are suppressed. Such elements, despite the 
character they seem to convey, are component parts of the 
amazing whole. We cannot reveal Bernhardt in her genuine 
greatness without revealing also certain things that in a less 
important biography had certainly better have been left un- 

For seventy-nine years Sarah succeeded in concealing the 
facts of her birth. Yet more than thirty years ago she said to 
Madame Pierre Bert on, to whose remarkable and faithful memory 
the facts of this biography are due, " I hope that, when I am dead, 
you, who are younger than I am, will reveal to the world the 
real Sarah — the Sarah whom the audiences never knew ! " 

From time to time thereafter, throughout their long and 
intimate association, Sarah told Madame Berton the facts of her 
birth, of her childhood, of her absorbing up-hill battle towards 
celebrity and of her final conquest. These facts, together with 
matters of Madame Berton's own observation, are contained in 
this book. 

Scrupulous to a fault, Madame Berton refrained from teUing 
or publishing a word of what had been given her in confidence, 
until Sarah's death released her from her promise, and at the 
same time put her under the immediate obligation of fulfilling 

Introduction ix 

her old friend's wish and " revealing to the world the Sarah whom 
the audiences never knew." 

•A word about Madame Berton. She is the widow of Pierre 
Berton, the actor and playwright, who, before his marriage to 
her, was the adored intimate of Bernhardt. Their liaison, which 
is recounted hereafter, lasted two years, and even after they 
separated their friendship continued. 

It was Berton who convinced Duquesnel, the director of the 
Odeon, of Sarah's genius as a tragedienne ; it was Berton who 
encouraged her and taught her and who, more than any other 
man, was responsible for her early triumphs. It was Berton 
who stood beside her when all Paris sneered at and mocked 
her, and it was Berton who defended her when the co-directors 
of the Odeon wished to cancel her contract because of what they 
termed her " incorrigibility." * 

No living person, then, can be so fitted to tell Sarah's true 
history as the widow of the man who, himself, lived a part of it. 

Madame Berton, after her marriage to Berton, accompanied 
her husband on many of Sarah's famous tours about Europe. 
Even after her marriage, Therese Berton remained Sarah's 
confidante and friend, though there were intervals of coldness that 
were natural enough in a temperament as self-centred, ajid as 
jealous as was Sarah's. 

From now on the story will be as Madame Berton related it 
to me. I shall let her tell it here just as she told it me in Paris, 
in the same simple convincing language, without the addition 
of Hterary flourishes or anything that could detract from the 
dramatic power of the narrative itself. 


Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


For all my intimacy with Sarah Bernhardt (said Madame Berton), 
I find it difficult to believe that she loved me. I think that, on 
the contrary, she distrusted me, and I even believe that at times 
she hated me, because it was I, and not she, who had married 
Pierre Berton. 

Yet she confided in me. She was at times hard-pressed for 
somebody to whom she could tell her secrets. She knew that 
I would keep my promise never to relate them during her life- 
time, and I know she told them to me because she realised that 
one day even the most intimate details of her Hfe would belong 
by right to posterity. 

This great actress with Jewish, German, French and Flemish 
(and probably also Gypsy) blood in her veins, was born into that 
condition of life which even to-day spells ruin, hate, despair and 
poverty for the great majority. In those days illegitimacy was 
almost an insuperable obstacle to recognition and success. 

To the fact that the union of her mother and father was 

never blessed by holy matrimony may with justice be ascribed 

the impunity with which she was assailed during the first forty 

or fifty years of her life by all manner of critics, high and low. 

No less than three books or pamphlets were WTitten attacking 

her before she had attained her fortieth year. 


12 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Articles in the Parisian press were sometimes so virulent as 
to be inconceivable, when it is remembered that the object of 
their venom was the world's greatest actress, the " Divine 
Sarah." Every blackmailing penny-a-liner in Paris essayed to 
make Sarah pay him tribute at some time or another. I do 
not think that she ever paid, but I do know that the fits of rage 
and despair into which she was thrown after reading these attacks 
often made her so ill that for days her understudy was obliged to 
play her part. 

"Her long fight to keep the truth of her birth from being 
published is known. In telliog me one day of the sordid circum- 
stances to which she owed her appearance in the world she 
pledged me to secrecy during her lifetime. I have kept that 
pledge, and it is only because she gave me express permission 
to write this book after her death, and because it is time that 
the world knew the true story of this extraordinary genius, that 
I tell it now. * 

The " Divine " Sarah was divine only in her inspiration ; 
the " immortal " Sarah was immortal solely in her art. The 
real Sarah, the Sarah whom her intimates knew and adored, was 
not so much a divinity as an idol ; a woman full of vanity and 
frailty, dominated since birth by ambitious egoism and a deter- 
mination to become famous. 

She was the supreme woman of the nineteenth and early 
twentieth centuries ; but it was not her supremacy or her position 
at the pinnacle of theatrical success that made her lovable. 
She was loved, not because she was a saint but because she was 
not a saint ; for to err is human and to be human is to be loved. 
Even on the stage her art was natural- — she did not pose, she lived. 


Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 13 

* In the history of the Christian world only one other woman 
was born under a greater handicap than was Sarah Bernhardt, 
and few women ever rose to a similar fame. Yet Sarah, even 
at the height of her career, did things which were justly con- 
demned by strict -living people and would not have been tolerated 
in anyone else's case. 

Consider this woman. She was born to an unwed Jewish 
mother whose birth-place was Berlin. Her father was a French 
provincial lawyer, a profligate, who afterwards became a world- 

She was born a Jewess, baptized a Catholic. By birth she 
was French, and by marriage she was Greek. 

Throughout her life she was, first, an actress ; secondly, 
a mother ; thirdly, a great, a tempestuous lover. 

She was a sculptress of extraordinary merit ; she was a 
painter whose pictures were exhibited in the Paris Salons before 
she became famous as an actress ; she was a writer with many 
books to her credit, 

A temperamental morbidity was, I think, supreme in her 
character, although many who knew her placed ambition first. 
After these came mother-love, vanity, affection and malice. 
She made more enemies than friends ; more people feared her 
than loved her ; yet her life was replete with great sentimental 
episodes with some of the most famous men of her time. 

The happiest period of her life was during the infancy of her 
son Maurice ; her greatest joy was in his abiding affection. 
The bitterest period of her life was her old age, when she was 
surrounded by jackals whose affection for her was chiefly pur- 
chased by the money she mistakenly lavished on them ; and 

14 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

who reduced her to such a penniless condition that, practically 
on her death-bed, she was forced to pose for an American film 
company, so that her debts and funeral expenses might in part 
be covered.* 

Fifty years of constant association taught me the truth about 
Sarah Bernhardt. Others might have known her longer, but 
none knew her better. None certainly could speak with greater 
authority of her intimate life. I had the details of her birth, her 
life, and her loves that are here set forth from her own lips, and 
from the lips of others who figured in her career. 

The first time I met Sarah Bernhardt will live in my memory 
for ever. A child of eight, I was taken to visit the actress — 
then beginning to taste the first fruits of success — in her loge 
at the Odeon Theatre. 

I remember my fright as we crossed the vast, cavernous 
stage, on our way to the stairs which led to the dressing-rooms. 
Enormous pieces of scenery looked as though they might topple 
on one at any moment. Cardboard statues, which to my childish 
imagination seemed forbidding demons, leered at me from the 
shadows. Rough, uncouth scene-shifters, acolytes of this painted 
Hades, jostled me as we passed. The great height of the stage, 
ending in a gloomy mystery of ropes, pulleys and platforms 
which hinted at occult rites, awed me and made me feel smaller 
than I really was (and I was very small !). 

From time to time voices, bawling from the gloom but whence 
exactly I neither knew nor could discover, echoed and re-echoed 
through the shadows. The curtain was up, and beyond the darkened 
proscenium I could faintly discern the four-storied auditorium, 
awesome in its resounding emptiness. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 15 

Whom could we be going to visit here, I wondered, and 
clung tighter to my mother's protecting skirts, while she inquired 
her way of a black-coated gentleman, who appeared with dis- 
concerting suddenness as we reached the foot of the stairs. But 
I dared not voice the question, and now we mounted a 
bewildering number of steps, each bringing a more mysterious 
vista than the last. 

Finally we reached the top of the stairs and my mother led 
me down a long passageway, lined with doors which had once been 
painted white but which were now a dirty cream colour. Some 
of these doors had simply numbers ; others bore a name inscribed 
on a piece of pasteboard, inserted in a metal holder. 

Almost at the end of the corridor my mother stopped before 
a door precisely similar to the others, except that instead of a 
number or a pasteboard it bore the name in golden letters : 


Even then the young actress had evinced her preference for gold. 
She said that it matched her hair. 

Receiving a summons to enter, my mother opened the door 
and went in, dragging me resolutely after her. Inside this door 
was another, inscribed in like fashion, and when this in turn 
was opened, we found ourselves in a large room illuminated by 
two windows and shaded lights, for it was winter and the 
windows opened on a courtyard. 

This room contained a settee, an armchair, two other chairs 
and a table, which had three movable mirrors above it. The 
table was littered with pots and vases of every description and 
a wild confusion of gold-backed brushes and toilet accessories. 
A great vase full of carnations stood on it, and another filled 

1 6 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

with the same flowers was on the floor near one of the windows. 
The room was carpeted, but the carpet was so littered with 
envelopes, pieces of paper and various articles of wearing apparel 
that its design could not be discerned. 

Seated before the taUe-de-toilette was an angel. 

Let the reader remember that he is dealing with a child's 
memory. My imagination had so been wrought upon by the 
fearful caverns below that I had fully expected to see, enthroned 
here, in the upper chambers, His Majesty Satan in all his glory. 
The sight then of this radiant creature, her head literally crowned 
with a tumbling glory of gold, came as a tremendous shock — 
until I recalled that, although that awful place down below must 
have been Hell, we had mounted upwards since then and must 
therefore by now have reached Heaven ! 

As my mother shook hands, I ran behind her and, terror- 
stricken at I know not what, hid my face in her ample skirts. 
Then, as though from far away, I heard the divinity speak. 

" So this is little Therese ! " she said. " Come here, ma 
petite, and let Sarah Bernhardt kiss you I " 

But I would not go, and only buried my face all the deeper 
in my mother's dress. 

" Mais, ma mignonne," remonstrated the angel, " I cannot see 
you if you hide like that ! Come ! " 

My mother, excusably vexed, dragged me from my hiding- 

" Come ! come ! " she said sharply ; " speak to Mademoiselle ! 
Go and kiss her ! " 

Thus commanded in a tone I knew too well, I advanced a 
step and stood there shyly, not daring to lift my head. Sud- 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 17 

denly I was overwhelmed by two arms and a mass of golden 
hair, which literally covered my head and shoulders as Sarah 
Bernhardt caught me to her. 

" La pauvre petite . . . la pauvre mignonne ! " she kept 
repeating, punctuating the words with hearty hugs and an 
embrace on both cheeks. Then, holding me at arm's length : 

" So, you want to be an actress ? " 

Now this, to my knowledge, was the first occasion on which I 
had ever heard that I was to be an actress. Certainly I had never 
mentioned the idea to anyone, least of all to my mother, who was 
not a person to whom one made confidences. I stood there 

" Ma foi," ejaculated the angel, in her glorious voice, " she 
is pretty enough ! " 

There followed a rapid exchange of remarks between my 
mother and Sarah Bernhardt-— the connection between whom I 
have never been able to fathom— and during these I was ordered 
to sit on the chair (my legs did not touch the ground) and told 
not to open my mouth. As if I would have dared to ! But I 
had become bold enough to feast my eyes on the divinity, and to 
study her at leisure. 

How easily that first childish impression of Sarah comes to 
me now, fifty years later ! 

Those amazingly blue eyes, widely-spaced ; that arched nose, 
a pulse beating in the sensitive nostril as she talked ; that glorious 
mouth, full and red, the upper lip slightly projecting over the 
under one ; that firm chin, with the dimple that Edmond Ros- 
tand afterwards raved about ; those high cheek-bones, the line 
of them extending to where the hair covered the ears ; above all, 

i8 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

that extraordinary mass of unruly golden-red hair, tossed about 
in riotous confusion and every direction. 

Many another face I might see and forget, this one, never ! 

When Sarah stood up to say good-bye, I saw that she was 
taller than my mother, and unbelievably slender. 

As we went downstairs, I was in such an ecstatic state of 
bliss that I had not the slightest fear of the gnomes lurking in 
the shadows of the nether regions as we passed them again on 
our way out, nor do I remember my mother talking to me. 

My heart was dedicated to a goddess. Sarah Bernhardt, 
from that day onwards, was my idol. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 19 


What is the truth about Sarah Bernhardt 's birth ? Have I 
the right to tell it, even though I know the facts ? Have I the 
right to divulge this secret of all secrets, for nearly four-score 
years locked in the breast of the greatest woman of five epochs ? 
Who am I that I should venture into the cupboards of the dead 
Great for the purpose of rattling the skeletons I am certain to 
find there' — yes, in the cupboards of all the dead great ones 
who later surrounded this celebrated woman, and not alone 
Bernhardt ? 

I have faced this problem squarely, fought it out with myself 
through long, sleepless nights, when publishers were bedevilling 
me for the truth, the whole truth and' — scarcely anything but the 
truth. It is a problem that will raise a sharp conflict in the 
feelings of all my readers. It is a problem for Poe. 

Have I the right' — knowing what I do of the real circumstances 
surrounding not only the dead genius but her living relatives 
alsO' — have I the right to tear the shroud from that dead face, 
and let the world gaze afresh on a long-familiar visage, only to 
find a new and wondrously changed entity beneath ? 

I will be frank. I had made up my mind not to do it : not 
for fear of giving offence to the dead, for 'twas from this very 
glorious clay that I had the truth with permission to publish it, 
but from respect to the living. Sarah Bernhardt not only left 

20 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

a son, Maurice Bernhardt ; she left grandchildren and great- 
grandchildren, little ones whom I have watched joyously at play 
in the Pare Monceau, unknowing that at that very moment the 
great battle for life was being staged in the drab little house on 
the Boulevard Pereire. She had made up her mind that the 
sorrows which were hers should never blemish these innocent ones. 

And yet' — what a fallacy, what a heartrending fallacy it is 
to believe that such things can be concealed, or that, being con- 
cealed, they do not fester in their hiding-places ! 

Scarcely had the last, sad curtain been rung down on that 
greatest of real-life dramas than the scavengers of literature — 
those grisly people who lurk in the night of life, dealing in calumny 
and lieS' — began delving into the past of Sarah Bernhardt, just 
as the real chiffoniers, those horrible old women of the dawn, 
delve into the dustbins of Paris, seeking for Heaven knows what 

The mystery of her birth was Sarah's great secret. Insati- 
able, the greedy public desired to rend this secret and to tear it 
into little bits. Literary ghouls fell upon the great woman's 
reputation and fought over it. They disinterred legends that 
Sarah, while living, had successfully and scornfully proved untrue. 
They sent out lies by the bushel, secure in the knowledge that 
the Golden Voice, which alone could brand them, was stilled 
for ever. 

Perhaps it was to be expected that the first of these legends 
came from Germany, a country that Sarah scorned and once 
refused to visit, although she had been offered a miUion marks to 
do so ; a country, moreover, which had claimed Sarah as its own 
on more than one occasion. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 21 

In 1902 the Berlin Lokal Anzeiger published a " revelation " 
of the birth of Sarah Bernhardt. She was born, said the inspired 
writer, at Frankfort. Her father was a German, her mother a 
Fleming. She had been taken to France when a tiny child and 
there abandoned by her parents. 

" We are aware," said the Lokal Anzeiger, " that Sarah herself 
claims to have been bom in Paris. Our only retort to this is : 
let her produce her birth certificate ! " 

They knew, of course, that Sarah's birth was never registered. 
Later I will tell you why. 

Sarah Bernhardt was interviewed about these statements at 
the time they were published. As always, she refused to comment 
on the extraordinary story, and contented herself with referring 
inquiring journalists to her Memoirs, entitled " Ma Double Vie," 
which had been published some years before. 

In these Memoirs Sarah told an infinitesimal fraction of the 
truth. She said that she was born on October 22, 1844, at number 
5, rue de I'Ecole de Medecine, in Paris. This was the only 
mention she made of the circumstances of her birth, and it was 

Now comes George Bernhardt, a famous German, who ought 
to know better than to pander to the scandal-mongers, and who 
states positively that Sarah's father was his great-grandfather, 
George Bernhardt, and that her mother was a Gypsy woman 
for whom he experienced a temporary passion while hving in 

But here he hedges. " At least," he says, " family records 
tell of the existence of the child, and of the allegation that George 
Bernhardt was the father ; but they also say that the assertion 

22 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

was denied by him, which leads to the probabiUty that Sarah 
Bernhardt had no claim whatever on the name she bore," 

Frankfort, and now Algiers ! A Flemish mother and a 
Gypsy mother ! A fine haul for the scavengers ! 

Sarah had to fight rumours of this kind on several occasions 
during her lifetime. In a scurrilous book which was written many 
years ago it was asserted that she " never knew who her father 

This, as might be expected, was untrue. Sarah not only 
knew who her father was, but knew him well. Though she never 
lived with him, he visited her frequently, especially when she 
was at school in the Convent at Grandchamps, and when he died 
he left her a portion of his fortune. 

Sarah herself starts her Memoirs with this reference to him : 
" My father was travelling in China at the time — why, I do not 

Here, then, was the answer to the problem that had been 
bothering me : it was clearly better to tell the truth once and 
for all, and to set at rest all doubts concerning this much-debated 
question of Sarah Bernhardt's birth, than to let every newspaper 
scavenger have his own way with it, prolong the agony, and 
incidentally contrive, by unscrupulous inference, to cast a 
shadow much blacker than the importance of the matter justified. 

To aid me in coming to this decision I had the knowledge 
that Sarah herself, in telling the story to me many years ago, was 
aware that one day it would be made public, and wished things 
so. She knew that in time to come she would belong to history, 
and also how little of historv is founded on actual fact. The 
last thing she wanted was for the facts of her life to be at the 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 23 

mercy of imaginative chroniclers, who would have nothing to 
base their story on except rumour. 

Thus she told it to me, and thus I tell it to you. Let the 
world decide. 

24 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


No. 5, rue de I'Ecole de Medecine was a weird, queerly-leaning 
tenement house in a black little side-street just off the Boule- 
vard St. Germain, near the Boulevard St. Michel, in the heart 
of the students' quarter of Paris. It was a poor dwelling, at 
best, with a crumbling fagade, ornamented with some scarcely- 
discernible heraldic device which told of past dignity. It had 
a low, wide doorway, with one of its great oak, iron-studded doors 
askew on its hinges, so that a perpetual draught whistled up the 
stone-flagged corridor that loomed darkly, like a cave, from the 
street to the crumbling stairs. A four-story building . . . each 
floor was just a trifle more weather-beaten, more decrepit, than 
the next. On the ground floor, next to the loge du concierge, 
was a wineshop, smelling of last night's slops, where the brown- 
aproned proprietor leaned against his little wooden bar and filled 
new bottles with the dregs that had not been drunk the day 
before ; next to the wineshop stood a cobbler's stall, with the 
tap-tap of the cobbler's wooden mallet resounding through the 
street to the courtyard at the rear ; and next to the cobbler's, 
the stall of a marchand des frites, whose only merchandise was 
sliced potatoes fried in olive oil. 

On the first floor was the appartement of the wine-dealer ; 
on the second and third, logements for students' — students who, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 25 

returning nightly from the cafes of the Boul' Mich', enhvened the 
aged edifice with their cries. 

And on the fourth floor of this building, on this twenty- 
second day of October, 1844, in a modest fiat of three rooms — 
bedroom, sitting-room and kitchen- — was born the baby who 
afterwards became Sarah Bernhardt. 

Her mother, then a beautiful young woman in her late teens, 
was named Julie Bernard, but sometimes she called herself 
Judith Van Hard. Among her intimates she was affectionately 
known as Youle. 

It was eight o'clock at night. Youle was lying in bed, her 
mass of red-gold hair tumbling over her shoulders and down 
under the sheets. Her eyes of sapphire-blue were closed, and her 
breathing hard and spasmodic. Her features were drawn ; her 
face pale. 

Three other persons were in the room. One was a man^ — 
the doctor, busy packing up his instruments. The other was a 
young friend, Madame Guerard. The third was a tiny atom of 
humanity, barely a foot long and weighing certainly not more 
than half a dozen pounds. This infant's head was covered with 
a fuzz of reddish hair resembling the mother's ; its tiny mouth 
was open and its little lungs were working at top-blast. 

The temper for which Sarah Bernhardt was later to become 
notorious was making its first manifestation. 

The delivery had been difficult, and Julie was not asleep but 
unconscious. Thus, though the baby cried all night, the mother 
did not awaken, and in the morning Mme. Guerard sent off to the 
nearest synagogue for a Jewish priest. 

But when the doctor came the crisis had passed ; the 

26 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

girl on the bed had recovered consciousness and was already 
fondling her child. From then on her recovery was rapid, and 
before little Sarah had properly got her blue eyes open or begun 
to take an interest in things around her, the beautiful httle Jewish 
girl was back at her work-table in the sitting-room, trimming hats 
for which she was paid a few sous each by the clients whose 
houses she visited in turn every week. 

*Julie Van Hard, or Bernard, was a Flemish Jewess born of 
a strugghng lower-middle-class family in BerHn. Her father, 
originally from South Holland but a naturalised German, had 
worked in a circus, but had forsaken this occupation to go into 
the retail grain and seed business, first in Hanover and then in 
Berlin. Her mother was a German dressmaker and a great beauty. 
When JuUe was thirteen, her father died and left her only a hand- 
ful of marks with which to complete her education. 

Instead of doing so she chose to leave school, and became an 
apprentice in a big Berlin millinery establishment. ' After working 
there a little more than a year, she fell in love with a non-com- 
missioned officer in a cavalry regiment, who seduced and then 
callously left her. When the affair came to the ears of the girl's 
employer, she was discharged in disgrace. 

After that she left Berhn and went to Frankfort, where she 
kept herself for a few months by making hats (at which she was 
very clever) and singing on occasion in cafes-concert. She was 
a lovely child, even in the poor dresses she could afford, and 
having a talent for music, had been taught the piano by her 
mother. She displayed, however, httle of the great histrionic 
ability which was to develop in her daughter. In fact, Sarah 
Bernhardt never completely satisfied herself from which side of 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 27 

the family she derived her talent. Her father's relations, from 
what httle she learned of them, were comfortable, mediocre middle- 
class people in the French provinces — with German or Dutch 
connections, to be sure, but with no " acting blood " as far as she 
could discover. 

The Van Hard family, however, was an offshoot of the Kins- 
berger clan, who owned circuses and theatres in Northern Europe 
before Napoleon's day, and who later developed into wholesale 
dealers in grain. When Napoleon invaded Poland, in fact, a 
Kinsberger supplied him with grain for his horses. The exact 
relationship of this Kinsberger to Sarah she never properly knew, 
but he was probably a cousin of her grandfather. 

Away back therefore in this maternal line, there probably 
existed someone with a talent for the theatre. Whether the 
ancestor in question ever used it is not on record. We know that 
her grandfather was a performer in a Dutch circus, but we do 
not know whether he was a clown or an animal-tamer. 

Tn Frankfort, Julie Bernard, the modiste, met a young 
Frenchman, a courier in the diplomatic corps, and a wild love 
affair followed, which culminated in the girl following the young 
man to Paris. * There they continued their liaison for less than 
a month, however, since the courier's parents, people of noble 
birth, stepped in and forbade him ever to see the little German 
girl again. He left her without warning, and without money. 
For weeks afterwards little Julie, a stranger in a strange land 
and speaking little French, lived as best she might. Paris is a 
hard city now, for the unprotected girl ; it was harder then. 
Often the German waif came perilously near starvation. Once, 
according to a story that she later on in life related to Jeanne, her 

28 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

second daughter, who told it to Sarah, she tried to commit 
suicide by throwing herself under the wheels of a passing coach. 
But she had misjudged the distance and the wheels passed within 
inches of her. 

What she did to eke out a bare living in those terrible days 
we do not know. It is unlikely that she ever confided the whole 
story to her daughters' — even to Jeanne, her favourite. What 
is known is that she continued to make hats whenever she could 
save sufficient sous to buy the material, and perhaps she sang 
or danced in the cabarets of the quarter ; but this is unlikely, 
because of her ignorance of French. Whatever she did, no one 
now can blame her. 

Eventually, she struck up an acquaintance with a law student, 
who was registered on the books of the University of Paris as 
Edouard Bernhardt. The family name of this man, according 
to what Sarah learned later, was de Therard, and his baptismal 
name was " Paul."'. 

The exact reasons for the dual nomenclature I cannot give. 
Sarah herself knew of the matter only vaguely. I suggested that 
de Therard was the student's right name, but that he carried on 
his liaison with Julie under the name of Bernhardt. Sarah 
admitted this was a plausible inference, but insisted that 
the attorney for her father's estate always referred to him as 

Bernhardt, or de Therard, was one of the wildest youngsters 
in the Latin Quarter. He was constantly getting into scrapes^ 
which his family at Le Havre had to pay for. Many of these 
scrapes were with women much older than himself, and I'aventure 
amour euse was probably his strong' — or weak- — point. At any 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 29 

rate, he succeeded in studying as little law as possible, for he 
failed completely in all his examinations. 

Where he and Julie met is unknown ; probably it was a 
simple rencontre de la rue, which is common enough in Paris to-day. 
The nature of Julie's trade, when delivering her hats to her 
customers, took her frequently into the streets of the quarter in 
which young Bernhardt was studying and in which he prosecuted 
his love affairs. It is likely that, seeing a marvellously pretty 
girl (of a type then unusual in Paris) , walking along the Boul' Mich' , 
he followed her and, being of the handsome, devil-may-care type, 
pleased her so that she agreed to meet him again. 

Be that as it may, the link between the little German girl and 
the reckless Havre student soon became public enough. Their 
appearance in any of the cafes or cabarets of the quarter was the 
signal for a chorus of congratulations and ironical greetings 
from Bernhardt's comrades. 

The little flat at Number 5, rue de I'Ecole de Medecine, was 
furnished and rented by Bernhardt for Julie, out of his slender 
student's purse. 

Two weeks before the birth of his child, Bernhardt returned 
to Havre. 

He wrote ardent letters to the forsaken mother and sent 
regular sums for the child's support. Sometimes he visited 
Paris, but rarely remained there longer than twenty-four hours. 
As his financial circumstances improved, for relatives bequeathed 
him fairly large sums, he began to travel, and before his first 
voyage, to Portugal, he suggested that the infant Sarah should be 
sent to his own old nurse, now become a professional dry-nurse, 
with a farm near Quimperle, in Brittany. 

30 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

About this time Julie's fortunes underwent a sudden change 
for the better. This came about through several circumstances 
which occurred within a few weeks of each other. First, a 
relative of the young girl died in Holland, and bequeathed to her 
and each of her three sisters an equal number of guelders. The 
sum was not large, but it sufficed to lift Julie above immediate 
want. She went to Holland to claim the money, and was gone 
six months. 

A few days after the legacy reached her, she discovered to 
her astonishment that one of her sisters, Rosine, who was her 
elder by four years and who was supposedly in Marseilles, was in 
reality living in Paris. How she was living is rather a mystery. 
But she seemed to be well off, and she had been long enough in 
France to speak the language excellently. 

When Julie returned from Holland, she came by way of Berlin 
and brought with her Henriette, her younger sister, then aged 
thirteen. There was still another sister, two years younger, and 
another aged twenty-eight, who was married and who lived in the 
French West Indies. 

Julie and Henriette, when they arrived in Paris, went to live 
with Rosine, who had a flat in Montmartre. With baby Sarah 
safely in the country, in charge of a capable nurse, and with 
funds for the child's upkeep provided by the father, Julie felt 
free to look around. 

She was a remarkable woman by this time. Eighteen years 
old, very fair, with a marvellous complexion and the wonder- 
ful head of hair that was to make her renowned later on, Julie 
Bernard possessed a gay and careless disposition that would have 
made her notorious anywhere. With her sisters, she began 





^ ^ ^ U > )^ H^ 









• I— « 






Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 31 

frequenting the cafes that were then fashionable, and it was not 
long before the trio began to meet interesting people. 

Among these acquaintances was a man whom Sarah herself 
always referred to as " Baron Larrey," but who was probably 
another man of title with a similar name. Baron Larrey and 
Julie became first friends, then lovers, and the relationship 
lasted five years. 

Far behind her now the dingy, decrepit old building at 
5, rue de I'Ecole de Medecine ! Far behind her the days when she 
had to trudge weary miles, in all weathers, to secure orders and 
deliver hats ! Julie was now a " fille a la mode." She flaunted the 
latest fashions, the latest colours, the latest millinery on the 
Boulevards and in the exclusive restaurants. Her relationship 
with the Baron commanded for her a certain respect in the gay, 
care-free Bohemian world that was the Paris of 1845. Nobles at 
Court commenced to be interested in her. Famous personages 
of the stage consented to sit at her table. 

She soon eclipsed in beauty and in accomplishments her 
less endowed sisters, although they too formed wealthy and 
prominent relationships. 

All three sisters loved to travel. Julie took the younger one 
on many voyages throughout Europe, and Rosine made regular 
pilgrimages to Germany to the famous spas. 

While Julie lived the gay, irresponsible life of a Parisian 
butterfly, her daughter Sarah, a weak, anaemic child, cursed with 
a terrific temper, remained on the farm in Brittany. 

When she was nearly two years old she was still in her " first 
steps " ; she did not begin to learn to walk until she was fourteen 
months old. Her nurse, who had married again, had other duties 

32 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

about the farm and could give scant attention to the little one 
during the day. In order to keep her quiet, the nurse got her 
husband to build a little chair, in which the baby was fastened 
with a strap. This was then pushed against a table, so that the 
child could amuse herself with pieces of coloured paper — the 
only toys Sarah Bernhardt knew until she was three years old. 

One day the woman set her in the chair as usual but neglected 
to fasten the strap, and the baby, leaning forward to catch some- 
thing, fell from the high chair and into the wide, Breton fireplace, 
in which a log fire was burning. Her screams brought the nurse 
and her husband running. The nurse picked her up and plunged 
her bodily, flaming clothes and all, into a huge tub of milk which 
was waiting to be churned. 

Doctors were sent for from a neighbouring village and hasty 
messages sent to Paris. The only one of the sisters to be found 
was Rosine, who sent a message to Julie at Brussels, and herself 
hurried to Brittany. Four days later Julie arrived in Baron 
Larrey's coach, which had been driven at top speed all the way 
from Paris. 

From this incident grew Sarah's nickname, which remained 
with her all her childhood, " Flower-of-the-Milk." She was 
three months recovering from the severe burns she had sustained, 
and until she died she bore scars to remind her of the accident. 

'For ever after, Sarah Bernhardt had a horror of fire. She 
could not bear even to look at one, and would shiver and turn 
pale when she heard the trumpets and bells of the fire brigade. 
Yet mother-love conquered this fear when, nearly twenty years 
later, her flat took fire and she dashed through a barrage of flames 
to rescue her own baby boy. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 33 

* When little Sarah recovered, Julie proposed to the nurse, 
now a widow, that she should leave the Breton farm and hve in 
Paris in a cottage Baron Larrey had taken on the borders of the 
Seine, at Neuilly. The nurse agreed, and a new existence began 
for the child on the fringe of the city, where her mother was 
earning a reputation as a gilded social butterfly. ' 


34 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


During the year which followed transfer of nurse and child to 
Neuilly-sur-Seine Sarah saw her mother but once, and then merely 
by chance. 

Returning from a gay court party near St. Germain the coach, 
in which Julie was travelling with a resplendent personage the 
Comte de Tours, broke down just after it had crossed the bridge 
over the Seine and reached the outskirts of Neuilly. The nearest 
coach-builder was a mile distant, and while the coachman walked 
this distance, Julie bethought herself of the neglected child 
living only a few streets away. So she and the Count daintily 
picked their way to the cottage, and found Sarah revelling in 
her bi-weekly bath. 

This bath was an extraordinary affair, because it took place in 
the same tub as the family washing- — and probably other washing 
that the nurse solicited in order to eke out her income. On 
the principle of killing two birds with one stone, the nurse would 
make a warm tub of soap-suds, put the linen to be washed into it, 
and then hoist in baby Sarah ! 

The sight amused the Count and infuriated Julie, who gave 
the nurse a sound scolding. Sarah was hastily taken from the 
tub, dried, clothed and then handed to her fastidious mother, 
who fondled her in a gingerly way. But the baby failed to recog- 
nise the mother who had sacrificed so little for her sake, and burst 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 35 

into a storm of tears, pounding the finely-dressed lady with her 
puny little fists. 

The Count thought it a fine joke, and laughed uproariously. 
" She is just like her mother, Youle ! " he remarked, twirling 
his fine moustache. 

Julie handed her tempestuous child back to the nurse, 

" If that is the way she behaves when her mother comes to 
see her," she said, " I shall not come again." 

She kept her word to such good purpose that, eighteen months 
later, when the nurse married for a third time, and desired 
to take the child with her to her new home, letters to Julie's 
address were returned undelivered. The errant mother had not 
even thought it worth her while to keep her child's nurse informed 
of her movements. 

The nurse's new husband was a concierge, one of those indis- 
pensable people who open the doors of Paris buildings, lose letters, 
clean stairs, quarrel with flat-owners, and generally make them- 
selves as much of a nuisance as possible. This particular speci- 
men was a big, upstanding man with sandy hair, about forty 
years of age, or ten years younger than his bride. 

He was then concierge at Number 65, rue de Provence, in 
the heart of Paris, near where the Galeries Lafayette, the great 
stores, now stand. It was a dingy building, mostly devoted to 
commerce, and the concierge occupied one room on the first floor. 
This one room was bedroom, sitting-room and kitchen combined. 

There was only one bed, a big four-poster, jammed against 
the window. There was also one kitchen table, on which he ate 
his meals ; two chairs in varying stages of decrepitude ; a small 
coal stove screened from the bed by a heavy velvet curtain — 

36 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

soiled legacy of some opulent tenant' — and another small table, 
on which stood a wash-basin and pail. When water was wanted 
it was necessary to fetch it from a pump in the street. 

It was into this sordid environment that little Sarah, " Flower- 
of-the-Milk," now almost five years old, was brought willy-nilly 
by her foster-mother. There was no room to put a cot for 
the child, so she shared a fraction of the bed. She was quickly 
put to work by her new lord, who soon initiated her into the 
mysteries of floor-washing and door-knob polishing, while it 
was generally la petite Sarah, when water was wanted, who was 
commissioned to stagger down the stairs with the empty pail 
and return with the full one. 

Living with two adults in this ill-ventilated, badly-lighted 
room — the sole window was one about twice the size of a ship's 
port-hole — and forced to do work which might well have proved 
too much for a child twice her age, it is small wonder that Sarah 
was frequently ill. 

She lost appetite and colour, and grew weak, while the anaemia, 
which the bracing air of the country had almost cured, returned. 
Her eyes grew listless and had large puffs under them, so that 
neighbours, who pitied the child, prophesied that her days would 
soon be over. 

Her only playmate, almost as unhappy as herself, was another 
httle girl named Titine, the daughter of a working jeweller, who 
lived on the floor above ; her playgrounds were the busy streets 
of Paris ; her language the argot of the slums. No one dreamed 
of sending her to school, which was not then compulsory. 

There is very little doubt that the world would never have 
known Sarah Bernhardt if this state of affairs had lasted another 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 37 

year. The child was fast going into tuberculosis, and could not 
even summon strength for the fits of temper that had distinguished 
her up till this time. 

I have said that her only playmate was Titine, the daughter of 
the jeweller, but there was another for a month or so — the son 
of the butcher at the street corner. 

One afternoon the janitor's wife returned from an errand and 
heard screams coming from the loge. Hastening there she dis- 
covered the butcher's son, aged six, stripped to the waist, and the 
diminutive Sarah laying on to him with a strap. 

" I am playing at being a Spaniard," she said in explanation, 
Spaniards having then a great reputation in France for cruelty. 
The incident is interesting in the light of later incidents in her 
career, when charges of callousness and cruelty were brought 
against her. For myself I have never doubted that a streak of 
the primitive existed in Sarah. But, unlike others, I believe that 
she was the better for it, for out of it grew her single-mindedness 
and her will to conquer. 

During all this time Sarah's mother gave no sign of life, 
despite repeated efforts on the part of the old nurse to find her. 
In fact, the child's board had not been paid for nearly two years 
and, with her delicate health, she was becoming a charge which 
the couple could ill afford. Deliverance from this state of affairs 
came unexpectedly. One day Rosine, Sarah's aunt, paid a visit 
to a neighbouring house. Sarah, who was playing in the court- 
yard of the building at the moment her aunt arrived, immediately 
recognised her, although the two had not met for more than a 

" Tante Rosine ! Tante Rosine ! " 

38 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

The extravagantly dressed woman turned, hardly believing 
her ears. 

" It is not ?• — why, it is Sarah, the daughter of my sister 
Youle ! " 

" Yes, yes ! It is I, Sarah ! Oh, take me away^ — take me 
away ! They suffocate me, these walls^ — always walls ! I cannot 
see the sky ! Take me away ! I want to see the sky again, and 
the flowers. . . ! " 

Sarah's cries had attracted a crowd, and much confused Rosine 
hurried the child into the concierge's room, and was there over- 
whelmed by the old nurse's explanations. 

Something seemed to tell Sarah that she was not to be taken 
away at that moment. 

" Oh, take me with you— take me with you ! I shall die 
here ! " 

It was the cry of a desperate child fighting for her life, and it 
visibly wrenched at the heart of Tante Rosine. Yet' — take her 
with her ? How could she ? What would her friend, the com- 
panion whom she lived with and who paid for her fine gowns and 
hats, say, if she brought home this little child of the gutter ? 

" Well," she conceded, as the woe-begone child clung con- 
vulsively to her skirt, " I wiU come back to-morrow, and take 
you away." 

But with that curious intuition that characterises most 
children, Sarah sensed that she was about to be abandoned for a 
third time. She flung herself on the bed, sobbing, as her nurse 
accompanied her aunt down the stairs to the street below, where 
a fine equipage of boxwood and plush, prancing horses and liveried 
footmen was in waiting. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 39 

Rosine got into her carriage, dabbing a lace handkerchief at 
her eyes. She had a tender heart and was firmly resolved to 
write to Youle at once — Julie was in London — and make her take 
her child. 

The footman regained his seat, the coachman clucked to his 
horses and the equipage moved away. But before it had gone two 
feet there was a heartrending wail and shriek, followed by a 
chorus of affrighted shouts, and a body came hurtling past the 
coach to the pavement. It was Sarah. The child had attempted 
to jump from the tiny first-floor window into the coach as it 

When Sarah awoke she found herself in a great, clean bed, 
surrounded by kind faces. She was at the home of her aunt in 
the rue St. Honore. She had a double fracture of her right arm, 
and a sprained left ankle. 

Julie, who was sent for immediately, arrived three days later, 
together with numerous other members of Sarah's family. For 
the first time in her brief existence, Sarah found herself a person 
of importance. 

For the next two years little Sarah was an invalid, capable of 
walking only a step or two at a time. She passed this period 
sitting in a great arm-chair, unable to move without pain, dream- 
ing childish dreams of splendour for the future. 

" Never once," said Sarah in speaking of this period to me, 
" did I include in those dreams a suspicion that I would one day 
be an actress. I had never seen the inside of a theatre, and al- 
though many actors and actresses were among the friends con- 
stantly in and out of my mother's home at 22, rue de la Micho- 
difere — a rather meretriciously furnished flat with gilded salons 

40 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

and musty bedrooms — I was shy with them and they with me, 
and learned httle from their conversation. 

" In fact, the stage and all appertaining to it remained a deep 
mystery to me for nearly ten years after my accident. My 
actual going on the stage was an accident — or rather the solu- 
tion of a problem which had worried my mother almost to 

How this came about will be described in a later chapter. 

At seven years of age, Sarah Bernhardt had so far recovered 
that she could walk and move without difficulty, and there was 
serious discussion about sending her to school. Her volatile 
mother, absent for the most part during Sarah's convalescence, 
nevertheless resented the presence of the child in her home 
as irksome, and chafed to place her where she would be in 
good hands and could do without maternal supervision and 

As a matter of fact, at the age of seven Sarah could neither 
read nor write, and had never heard of arithmetic ! 

When her mother explained that she was to go to live in a 
place where there were hundreds of other little girls, who were to 
become her playmates, Sarah was overjoyed. During the terrible 
two years when she could not run about like other children, 
Sarah had had no playmates whatever ; and, during her airings 
in her mother's or her aunt's carriage, had often wistfully watched 
other and luckier little girls rolling hoops along the gravelled paths 
of the Champs Elysees, or in the fields which then fringed what 
is now the Boulevard de Clichy. She had been an intensely 
lonely child from her infancy and could scarcely contain her 
happiness at the thought that at last she was to be as other 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 41 

children, and have httle friends with whom she could talk and play 
as an equal. 

Probably the main reason for sending Sarah away at this 
juncture was the fact that Julie was again about to become a 

It may be as well to state here that Julie Bernhardt was the 
mother of four children including a boy who died. Sarah was the 
first, Jeanne the second, and Regine the third. More will be told 
hereafter concerning these two turbulent sisters of the actress. 
They both lived unfortunate lives and died still more unfortunate 

A report of Sarah's parentage that has won considerable 
credence was published by a weekly Paris newspaper in 1886, 
and re-published again as recently as April 8, 1923, by La Rampe, 
a Paris theatrical paper, I quote from the latter : 

" Edouard Bernhardt, grandfather of Sarah Bernhardt, was 
a Jew. He fulfilled the functions of chief ocuHst to the Court of 
Austria. He came to St. Aubin-du-Corbier, in Brittany, and 
there married the Marquise de la Thieul6 du Petit-Bois de la 
Vieuville, by whom he had four daughters and one son : Julie, 
Rosine, Agathe, Vitty and Edouard. The Marquise died and 
Edouard Bernhardt married, secondly, Madame Van Berinth, 
who had been governess to his children. Rosine and Juhe 
(mother of Sarah Bernhardt) ran away to Havre, where they 
obtained work as saleswomen in a confectionery establishment. 
Their father sent for them, and they fled to London. Shortly 
afterwards they returned to Havre, where Julie lived as the wife 
of a man named Morel, a ship-builder. They had fourteen 

42 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

children, of whom Sarah, born at Paris, 125, Faubourg St. 
Honor^, on October 23, 1840, was one." 

This seems circumstantial but it is absolutely inaccurate. 
I give it here, together with the evidence to contravert it, because 
so many people believe the above to be the true story of Sarah's 

The rebutting evidence consists, first, in Sarah's own denial, 
which was published almost immediately after the story itself, 
and, secondly, in the fact that the certificate of her baptism, 
in which the truth was certainly given, states that she was born, 
not in the Faubourg St. Honore, but in the rue de I'Ecole de 
Medecine— not on October 23, 1840, but on October 22, 1844 ; 
that her father was not " Monsieur Morel," but George Bernhardt ; 
and that her mother was not " Julie Bernhardt " but Juhe Van 

And, as I have said, Julie had only four children, not 
fourteen ! 

The same paper {La Rampe) says that Sarah was baptised 
at the age of eight years. When she was eight, Sarah was still 
a Jewess and at the school of which we shall shortly give an 
account. Sarah was baptised, under the name of Rosine, five 
years later, at the Grandchamps Convent, Versailles. 

When she was seven, then, and five months before Jeanne 
was born, Sarah was taken to Madame Fressard's school, at 
18, rue Boileau, Auteuil. The building still exists, but it has 
been turned into a private sanatorium. 

The journey to Auteuil, which one can now make from the 
rue St. Honor^ in twenty minutes by underground railway or 




Sketch of Therese Meilhan (afterwards Mme. Pierre Berton) by 

Georges Clairin, 1881. 

p. 42. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 43 

in half an hour by tramway or motor-bus, was then quite a 
formidable affair. Paris was left behind at the Avenue Montaigne, 
and from there the way lay along the banks of the smihng Seine, 
with only a roadside estaminet bordering what is now one of the 
most aristocratic streets of aU Paris. It took over an hour for 
the coach to reach the rue Boileau, in the little village of Auteuil. 
Sarah, needless to say, was enchanted with the journey and with 
the happy prospects ahead of her. 

It was quite a ceremony, the installation of Sarah in her 
new home. Besides Julie and Aunt Rosine, there was a General 
and another man, who represented Sarah's father, then absent 
in Lisbon. They were very pompous and important, and inclined 
to exaggerate the wealth that was so evident in the rich trappings 
of Aunt Rosine's coach. 

After much talk and negotiation, during which the party 
gathered around a bottle of wine opened by Madame Fressard, 
Sarah was formally entered on the books of the school as a pupil. 

Amongst other things Julie insisted on presenting Madame 
Fressard with eight large jars of cold cream, with which she gave 
orders that Sarah was to be massaged every morning. Another 
order concerned Sarah's mass of curly hair. It was not to be 
cut or trimmed in any way, but to be carefully combed night and 
morning. And when Madame Fressard ventured a slight protest 
at all these injunctions, Julie only waved her hand with a large 
gesture, saying : 

" You will be paid — her father is wealthy ! " 

The exact sum contributed by George Bernhardt towards 
Sarah's maintenance was four thousand francs annually. 

During aU the conversation that attended her installation 

44 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

as a pupil at the Auteuil school, Sarah remained mute, too shy 
to say a word. 

" What a stupid child ! " said Aunt Rosine, who was years 
before she gained a very high opinion of Sarah. 

" Naturally stupid, I'm afraid ! " sighed her mother, languidly. 

Only Madame Fressard, the stranger in the group, came to 
the forlorn little creature's aid : 

" Well, she has your eyes — so intelligent, madame ! " she 

And with this the party left in their flamboyant coach, each 
scrupulously kissing the child farewell at the gate, and each, 
without any doubt at all, exceedingly glad to be rid of her. 

Sarah was at last at school. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 45 


In later years it was fairly well known amongst theatrical people 
that Sarah was subject to " stage fright." The only occasion 
however on which nerves actually stopped her performance, 
occurred at Auteuil school, when she was eight years and three 
months old. Sarah told this story to me on one memorable day 
at Ville d'Avray, when, during a fete given by the Grand Duke 
Peter of Russia, we had stolen away from the crowd into Belle vue 
woods. I have never seen the incident referred to in print. 

" I had been at the school a little more than a year," Sarah 
told me, " when it was decided to give a performance of Clotilde, 
a play for children, which concerned a little girl's adventures in 
fairyland. Stella Colas, afterwards the wife of Pierre de Corvin, 
was cast for the name part. Another httle fair girl (whose 
name I have forgotten) was to play the role of Augustine, the 
partner of Clotilde. And I was cast for the part of the Queen of 
the Fairies. 

" At the rehearsals — we rehearsed all the winter— everything 
went well. My part was not an important one, but it involved 
some pretty realistic acting in the second act, when the Queen 
of the Fairies dies of mortification on hearing Clotilde affirm 
that the fairies do not really exist. This was the first ' death 
scene ' in which I ever acted. • 

" I wore wings, of course, and many rehearsals were neces- 

46 Sarah Bernhardt As I Knew Her 

sary before the stage-manager, who was our kindergarten 
teacher, could get me to fall without breaking them. Finally I 
learned the part, and managed to do it to the entire satisfaction 
of everyone. 

" When the great night came, we were, of course, all very 
nervous, myself most of all, for my mother and two aunts had 
written that they would be present accompanied by no less a 
personage than the Due de Morny, then considered to be the 
power behind Napoleon the Third's throne. 

" Before the curtain went up, my knees were knocking to- 
gether and I felt a wild desire to fly. I tried to run away and 
hide, in fact, but the teacher found me, petted me and made me 
promise to go on with the part. 

" I had nothing to do until the end of the fu-st act, when 
Clotilde and Augustine fall asleep at the foot of a great tree and 
dream of the fairies. My part was to descend from the tree, 
assisted by unseen wires, float to the middle of the stage, and then 
pronounce the words : ' On demande la reine des reves ? Me 
void ! ' {' They want the Queen of Dreams ? Here I am ! ') 

" Clotilde and Augustine fell asleep, and trembling all over I 
floated down and advanced to the front of the stage. We had 
no regular footlights, and everyone in the little auditorium could 
be distinguished from the stage. 

" Instead of pronouncing the sentence about the Queen of 
Dreams, I stood tongue-tied, unable to utter a syllable. Several 
times my mouth opened, and I tried to speak, but the words would 
not come. All the time I was anxiously searching the audience 
for familiar faces. It was only when I saw none, and realised 
that my mother was not present, that I managed to stutter : 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 47 

" ' On d-d-dem-m-m-mande la reine d-des rives ? M-m-me 
void ! ' 

" The last word I uttered in one breathless syllable ; then 
rushed off the stage to the accompaniment of much amused 

" In the wings of the tiny stage I was met by the principal 
of the school, who, affecting not to notice my embarrassment, 
complimented me warmly on my ' success,' and then told me that 
my mother and her party had not arrived. This, more than any- 
thing else, gave me the necessary courage to go through with 
my part. 

" Even in later years when I was on the regular stage, the 
presence of my mother in an audience invariably made me so 
nervous that I could hardly play. She was ever the harshest 
critic I had ! 

" The second act proceeded fairly well, since it was chiefly a 
dance by the fairies, with myself in the centre, wielding a mystic 
sceptre. All I had to do was wave the sceptre, and the fairies 
would bow as it was raised and lowered. Finally came the big 
moment when Clotilde awakens, and says : ' Pshaw, I was dream- 
ing ; there are no such things as fairies ! ' 

" With these words I was supposed to stop and wave my 
sceptre indignantly, on which all the other fairies disappeared, 
leaving me alone with Clotilde and the sleeping Augustine. Clo- 
tilde advances to me and asks : ' Who are you ? ' To my reply 
' I am the Queen of the Fairies,' she answers scornfully : ' You 
are a fraud, for there are no such things as fairies.' 

" When she utters these words I stagger and then, moaning 
and clasping my hand to my heart, sink slowly to the ground. 

48 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Clotilde, agonised, asks : ' What is the matter ? ' and I reply : 
* You have killed me, for when a little girl says she doesn't believe 
in the fairies, she mortally wounds their Queen.' 

" We had got as far as my reply ' I am the Queen,' when sud- 
denly I perceived, in the front row of the audience, six beauti- 
fully-gowned ladies and two gentlemen, who had not been there 
before. In trepidation I searched their faces, standing stock-still 
and not listening to Clotilde's scornful reply. Yes ! There was 
my mother, and there were my two aunts, as I had feared ! 

" All my stage-fright came back to me. And, instead of 
sinking to the ground as I was supposed to do, I burst out sobbing 
and ran off the stage, in the centre of which I left poor Clotilde 
standing, a forlorn little girl of ten. Instantly there was a storm 
of laughter and applause. Unable to stand it, Clotilde too ran off 
the stage, and the curtain was hastily rung down. 

" Soon I was surrounded with teachers and elder girls, some 
abusing me, others begging me to finish the play. But it was 
useless. I could act no more and the play, for lack of an under- 
study, was over. I was hustled, a weeping and very bedraggled- 
looking fairy, to the dormitory, where I was left alone with my 

" I would have given worlds to have been left alone for the 
remainder of the day ! But it was not to be, for scarcely fifteen 
minutes passed before the door opened and my mother appeared, 
followed by my aunts and their whole party ! 

" I could have prayed for the floor to open and swallow me ! 
I hid my head in the bedclothes, like an ostrich, and affected not 
to hear the words addressed to me. Finally I felt firm hands on 
my shoulders and I was dragged forth, weeping violently. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 49 

" If mother had only taken me in her arms and kissed and 
comforted me ! I was only a tiny child, not yet nine years old 
and still constitutionally weak, with high-strung nerves. But 
she stood there holding me and looking coldly into my tear-filled 

" ' And to think,' she said icily, ' that this is a child of mine ! ' 

" ' One would never think it,' said Aunt Rosine, sternly. 

" All were hard, unsympathetic, seeming not to realise that 
they were bullying a child whose nerves were at the breaking - 
point and who was in reality almost dead from exhaustion. I 
broke into another storm of sobs and, kicking myself free from 
my mother, ran to the bed and threw myself upon it in despair. 
With some further unkindly remarks from my mother and aunts, 
the party finally left, but as he reached the door the Due de Morny, 
the last to go out, turned and retraced the few steps to my bed. 

" ' Never mind, my little one,' he whispered. ' You will show 
them all how to act one of these days, won't you ? ' 

" His comforting words, however, had come too late. I had 
sobbed myself into a fever and the next morning the doctor had 
to be called. For several days I was kept in bed and forbidden 
to see the other girls. Through these long four days I kept think- 
ing constantly of my mother. Why had she been so cruel, so 
cold to her daughter ? I knew that another child had been born the 
year before, and with childish intuition I hit upon the right answer. 
Mother loved the baby more than she loved me — if, indeed, she 
loved me at all. I was inconsolable at the thought. How lonely 
a vista the coming years opened to my immature imagination ! 
Scores of times I sobbed out loud : ' I would rather be dead ! 
I would rather be dead ! ' 


50 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" Alas ! this was not the last time that my mother's chilly 
behaviour towards me threw me into a paroxysm of misery 
resulting in illness. I never grew callous to her disapproval of 
me ; her cutting criticisms had always the power to wound me to 
the heart. And yet I loved her ! More, I adored her ! Poor, 
lonely, friendless child that I was and had ever been, my starved 
heart cried out to the one human being whose love I had the right 
to claim, and who responded to my caresses sometimes almost as 
if I had been a stranger." 

This was the only occasion on which Sarah Bernhardt ever 
bewailed to me or to anyone else, her mother's lack of affection 
for her. She was scrupulously loyal to both her parents, and on 
the rare occasions when she mentioned them, it was always in 
terms of genuine love and respect. 

During her two years in Auteuil, Sarah's mother went to see 
her only three times, and her father only once. Her father's 
visit took place at the end of the first year, in December 1851. 
It was the first time, to her recollection, that Sarah had ever 
seen him. They met in the head-mistress's office, and the occa- 
sion must have been replete with drama. 

" I was called from study one afternoon about three o'clock," 
said Sarah, " and taken to Mme. Fressard's bureau. I found her 
waiting for me at the door with a peculiar expression on her face, 
and in the arm-chair near the fireplace I saw a very well-dressed 
man of about thirty, with a waxed moustache. 

" ' Ma cMrie,' said Madame Fressard, ' here is your father come 
to see you.' 

" Mon phe ! So this was the mysterious personage whose 
wish and order governed my life ; this the parent of whom my 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 51 

mother was apparently so much in fear, and yet whom she seldom 
saw ; this the stranger who was responsible for my being ! 

" I advanced shyly and gave my face to be kissed, an opera- 
tion which my father performed twice, on both sides, his mous- 
tache giving me a prickly sensation on my cheeks. 

" ' "\\Tiy, she is growing into quite a little beauty ! ' he said 
to Madame Fressard, holding me so that he could look at me 
closely. Then he asked me many questions : Was I happy ? 
Was I well ? Had I playmates ? What had I learned ? Could 
I read and write ?— and spell ? — and do sums ? 

" The interrogation lasted ten minutes and then my father 
took his tall grey hat and gloves, and prepared to leave. 

" ' We will leave her with you for a little while longer, madame,' 
he said to Madame Fressard, while I listened with all my ears. 

" ' I am going for a long journey and do not expect to return 
for eight or ten months. When I come back we will consider 
what is best to be done.' 

" Kissing me again, he took his departure and Madame 
Fressard drew me to her. 

" ' I should think you would love your father very, very 
much,' she said. ' He is such a handsome man ! ' 

" ' How can I love him ? ' I replied wonderingly. ' I have never 
seen him before.' " 

A year later Bernhardt had not returned from South America, 
but he sent Julie a letter, in which he urged that Sarah should be 
taken from Madame Fressard's preparatory school and sent to a 
convent ; he suggested Grandchamps Convent, at Versailles. He 
had written to the Superior, he said, explaining the circumstances, 
and the latter had replied that if little Sarah was sponsored by one 

52 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

other gentleman, preferably one in Paris, the matter could be 
arranged. Julie at once asked the Due de Morny, who agreed to 
sponsor the child. 

In the same letter Bernhardt said that he had made his will, 
in which he left 20,000 francs to Sarah, providing she had married 
before the age of twenty-one. 

" I do not intend my daughter," he wrote coldly, " to follow 
the example of her mother." 

Until she was twenty-one the income from the 20,000 francs 
was to pay for Sarah's schooling. Her mother was to pay for 
her clothes. 

Although the letter said that Bernhardt did not expect to 
return to France for several months, he actually caught the next 
boat to that which carried his letter, and arrived in Paris just 
after Sarah had been withdrawn from the school at Auteuil. 

This had not been effected without a storm of protest on 
Sarah's part. The two years had passed happily at Madame 
Fressard's, and she feared the future, surrounded by strange and 
cold relatives. 

Julie had gone to London, and it was Aunt Rosine who went 
to the school to fetch the child. 

Sarah delighted to tell of this departure from the school. 

" I hated to leave," she told me, " and it was two hours before 
they could succeed in dressing me. Once this was accomplished, 
I flew at Tante Rosine like a young fury, and spoiled all her 
elaborate coiffure. 

" She was furious and, bundling me into her coach, commanded 
me to keep silent. But I would not, and throughout the journey 
in the jolting carriage from Auteuil to 6, rue de la Chaussee d' Antin, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 53 

where my aunt and my mother owned a joint flat, I tore at her hair 
and kicked at her legs, and otherwise performed hke the disgrace- 
ful young ragamuffin I really was. 

" I was no better on our arrival at the flat, and kept the whole 
household in an uproar until I heard the sudden announcement 
that my father had arrived ! Then I coUapsed and had to be 
carried to bed, where I lost consciousness for three hours. When 
I awoke, it was to find a doctor and nurse installed and an array 
of medicine bottles on the table. I felt utterly exhausted and I 
heard Doctor Monod, the great physician who had been called by 
the Due de Morny, tell my father that I was in an extremely 
delicate condition and that my recovery depended upon my being 
kept absolutely quiet. * Above all,' said he, ' she is not to be 
" crossed." ' " 

Sarah's father often visited her during her three days' con- 
valescence from the fever brought on by a fit of temper, and on 
two occasions he brought with him Rossini, who lived in the 
same street and was an intimate friend. 

Julie had been informed of Sarah's illness, but was herself 
ill at Haarlem, in Holland, where she had just arrived from Lon- 
don. It was a fortnight before she reached Paris, and in the mean- 
time Sarah stayed at Neuilly, in the home of another and married 
aunt whose husband afterwards became a monk. 

When Julie finally arrived, a dinner was arranged to take place 
the night before Sarah was taken to the Convent. Edouard 
Bernhardt was present. This was the last time Sarah saw her 
father, for he died shortly afterwards in Italy. 

Sarah's life at the Convent has been more or less faithfully 
described in her own Memoirs, and I shall not dilate on it here. 

54 Sarah Bernhardt As I Knew Her 

She was expelled three timeS' — the last time for good. She was 
baptised at the age of twelve under the name of Rosine, and from 
then on dated her determination to become a nun. For two years 
she was fanatical on the subject of religion, but this did not pre- 
vent her fits of temper from breaking out and disturbing the whole 

" All my time at the Convent I was haunted by the desire to 
be a nun," she said to me once. " The beautiful life of the sisters 
who taught us at Grandchamps, their almost unearthly purity, 
their tranquil tempers, all made a tremendous impression on me. 
I dearly desired to take the vows and, had it been left to me, 
Sarah Bernhardt would have become Sister Rosine. But I 
doubt whether I would have remained a nun for life ! 

" I was never genuinely religious. It was the glamour and 
mystery and, above all, the tranquillity surrounding the life of 
a cloistered nun that attracted me. I should have run away from 
the Convent before many weeks." 

Young Sarah was tremendously high-spirited and constantly 
in trouble. The nuns were always sending despairing reports 
to her mother. 

Once, during a presentation of prizes, she pretended to 
faint and acted the part so realistically that even the Superior 
was deceived and believed her pupil to be dead. It gave her such 
a shock that the poor lady was ill for days. Sarah was sent to 
her bedroom in disgrace. 

" I spent the time reading forbidden books and eating bonbons 
that the concierge had smuggled in to me," she said, in telling 
me the story. 

On another occasion she organised a flight from the Convent. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 55 

In the dead of night she and six other girls of a similarly adven- 
turous disposition climbed down torn and knotted sheets from 
their dormitory windows to the ground. Clambering over the 
high wall surrounding the Convent grounds, thej'' took to their 
heels and were caught only at noon the next day, when in the act 
of throwing stones at horses of the Royal Dragoons. 

For this exploit she was expelled, but was allowed to return 
on her promise never to give trouble again. 

Scarcely two months afterwards, however, she was discovered 
by the mother-superior on top of the Convent wall, imitating the 
Bishop of Versailles, whom the day before she had seen conducting 
the Burial Service at a graveside. Expelled again ! 

On still another occasion she was caught flirting with a young 
soldier, who had tossed his cap over the wall. When the nuns 
tried to catch her, she climbed the wall and stayed there for 
hours, until long after dark. On this occasion she caught a chill 
which nearly resulted in her death, and when she had recovered 
she left the Convent for good. 

56 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


At the age of fifteen Sarah was a thin, weedy, shock-headed girl, 
about five feet tall, but undeveloped. Her complexion was pale 
and dark rings under her eyes told the story of unconquered 
anaemia. She had a chronic cough that would shake her thin 
body to paroxysms. She was extremely subject to colds and 
chills, and the slightest indisposition would send her to bed with 
fever. Doctors shook their heads over her and predicted that 
she would die of consumption before reaching the age of twenty. 

Her anaemia gave to her face a species of sombre beauty which 
was enlivened by the extraordinary play of expression in her eyes 
as she talked. Her features reflected every change of mood, and 
her moods were many. Judged by her face alone, she was not so 
much beautiful as striking. Character fairly leapt at one when she 

Her character was a curious composite of morbidity, affec- 
tion, talent and wilfulness. Her mother and her governess, 
Mile, de Brabender, a probationer nun, were often reduced to 
despair by her temper, which seemed to grow worse as she became 
older. At other times, but more rarely, she was tractable to the 
point of docility. 

Sarah's first visit to the theatre was to the Opera-Comique. 
This great event occurred when she was slowly recovering from the 
illness which followed her expulsion from the Convent at Grand- 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 57 

champs. One day she was at her music lesson with Mile. Clarisse, 
when her mother's maid came to say that her presence was desired 
in the salon. There she found her mother, the Due de Morny, 
and her younger sister Jeanne, who was never far from her 
mother's side when the latter was in Paris. 

Putting his hand on her curly heard the Duke said : 

" We have a great surprise for you." 

" A wonderful surprise," added her mother. 

Sarah clapped her hands excitedly. " I knoW' — I know ! 
You are going to let me enter the Convent — I am to be a nun ! " 

She was overwhelmed with joy ; never doubted but that 
her fondest dream was to be made true. 

" What is this ? " demanded the Duke in amazement. " Our 
beautiful little Sarah wants to be a nun ? And why do you wish 
to condemn yourself to that living death, may I ask ? " 

Living death ! To the child, whose memories of the Convent 
were so recent, the life of a nun was a living joy — a joy of service, 
sacrifice and peace. To her restless, turbulent, almost exotic 
temperament the thought of the calm, well-ordered existence of 
the tranquil religieuses was a beautiful one, a sacred memory. 
She could not bear the harsh laughter with which her mother 
greeted the suggestion. 

" Expelled from a convent and wants to be a nun ! " said 
Julie, scornfully. She could never bring herself to believe that 
this amazingly complex creature was her own child. 

" Hush ! " commanded the Duke, frowning. " Now, my 
little one, my question is not answered. Why do you wish to be 
a nun ? " 

Sarah looked fearlessly at her mother's protector. 

58 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" The doctors say I am soon to die — I have heard them talk," 
she said. " I would hke to die with my soul dedicated to 

To Julie, who was still a Jewess, this was cause for further 
laughter ; but the Duke, a man of much sentiment and some 
honour, was much affected. 

" Nonsense ! " he said. " You are not going to die for many 
years ! The doctors are fools ! We shall discharge them for 
idle talking. . . . No, my little one, the great surprise is not what 
you thought. We are going to take you to the Opera-Comique 
to see a play." 

Instead of the stammered thanks he expected, Sarah began to 

" I do not want to go to the Op^ra-Comique ! " she cried, 
stamping her foot. " I won't go ! Mother Saint-Sophie (the 
superior at the Convent) said that the theatre was wicked. I 
do not want to be wicked : I want to be a nun ! " 

Threats and persuasion were both necessary before Sarah 
consented to don the new gown her mother had purchased for 
her and accompany her parent and the Duke to the latter's box 
at the Opera-Comique. 

This theatre was then in the Place du Chatelet, and httle 
did the child dream, as she entered it, that twenty-five years later 
she herself would lease it from the city and call it the " Theatre 
Sarah Bernhardt "^ — which is its name to-day. Thus, the last 
theatre in which she acted was also that in which she saw her 
first play. 

Sarah fell an immediate victim to the theatre. The piece she 
saw that night — Sarah herself did not remember its name — held 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 59 

her enthralled. It was necessary for her companions to drag her 
away after the curtain had fallen on the last act. 

She had been transported to a new world, an unreal sphere of 
delight. For days, for weeks thereafter she spoke of little else. 
She besieged her mother with demands to be taken to the theatre 
again. The latter, however, was too wrapped up in her own 
pleasure-loving hfe to take much heed in the desires of her wilful 

One day Sarah went off to the art school, where she was learn- 
ing to paint — her ambition to become a nun was almost forgotten 
now, and she would spend feverish hours in preparation for the 
career she was convinced was ahead of her as a great portrait- 
painter — and did not return until the next morning. 

All that night searchers hunted throughout the city for the 
truant ; the police were informed and it was even suggested that 
the Seine should be dragged, for it was remembered that to come 
home from the art school, which it was ascertained she had left 
at the usual hour, it was necessary for her to cross the Pont 

At nine o'clock the next morning a tired, sleepy and very 
dirty Sarah returned to her mother's flat and, in reply to a storm 
of questions and reproaches from her almost frantic mother, 
explained that she had spent the night in the Op^ra- 

She had gone there direct from her art school and had succeeded 
in entering the theatre unobserved. Hiding under a seat in one 
of the galleries, she had waited until the play began and had then 
appropriated a chair. After the play, seized with panic, she was 
afraid to go out with the rest of the audience and had hidden 

6o Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

herself again, only leaving when the doors were opened to the 
cleaners in the morning. 

After that the Duke gave her regular tickets for the theatre, 
and she saw many plays. Frequently she would visit the same 
theatre a dozen times, learn several of the parts by heart and 
surprise her friends by reciting them. 

It was at this period of her life that Sarah began to have friends 
of the opposite sex, but she assured me that she loved none of 

" I had no foolishness of that kind in my head ! " she told me 
on one occasion. " My mother's house was always full of men, 
and the more I saw of them the less I liked them. 

" I was not a very companionable child. I had few girl 
friends and fewer male acquaintances, but these latter were 
assiduous in their attempts to make me like them. 

" The first man who asked me to marry him was a wealthy 
tanner's son, a young fellow of twenty who was earning forty 
francs a week in his father's establishment, but who expected to 
be rich one day. 

" His father used to frequent my mother's house and one day 
he brought his son with him. I was sent for to complete the party 
and, though I was haughty and kept the young fellow at a dis- 
tance, I could see that I had made a conquest. 

" He came again and again, and would waylay me on my 
journey to and from the art school, insisting on carrying my books. 
I did not dislike him, for he was a handsome, earnest young man, 
but neither did I like him particularly ; and when he capped his 
attentions by asking me to marry him I laughed in his face. He 
went away vowing revenge. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 6i 

" That night my mother came into my bedroom and asked me 
whether the tanner had not proposed that day. 
" ' Yes, mother,' I said. 
" ' And you accepted him ? ' 

" I gave her a look of horror. ' Accept him ? ' I cried. 
' But no, of course I did not accept him ! I do not love him — that 

is one reason ' 

" ' It is a poor reason,' said my mother angrily, ' Do you 
suppose I wish you on my hands for ever ? Are you never going 
to marry ? Your sisters are growing up and soon they will marry 
and you will be left, an ugly vieille fille ! Love always comes after 
marriage ! ' 

" ' I do not care,' I persisted, ' I will not marry your tanner ! 
He has large ears and his teeth are bad and he cannot talk. I 
will not marry him, and if he comes here again I shall slap his 
face ! ' 

" My mother was angrier than I had ever seen her. ' Very 
well, then, you shall do as you Hke ! I wash my hands of you ! ' 
she exclaimed, and left me. 

" I burst into a storm of tears and cried half the night. 
What a lonely child I was ! My only friends were Madame 
Guerard, who was under the domination of my mother, and 
Mile, de Brabender, a timid soul, who would fondle and talk to 
me affectionately when we were alone, but who was afraid to open 
her mouth in the presence of my lovely mother." 

The tanners — father and son — ceased to frequent the Van 
Hard house, and for a long while Julie did not speak to her 
daughter except formally. To make up for it, she was tre- 
mendously and ostentatiously affectionate with her two other 

62 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

daughters, Jeanne and Regine, who had been born four years 

Regine had a childhood somewhat similar to that of Sarah ; 
that is to say, she was bundled from here to there, never nursed 
by her mother, alternately the recipient of cuffs and kisses, and 
from the age of three left pretty much to her own sweet devices. 
It is not to be wondered at that she grew into a perfect terror of 
a child. 

At the time of which we are writing now, Regine was forbidden 
the reception rooms of the house, and spent most of her time in 
Sarah's room. Sarah became her nurse and teacher, and this 
relationship continued until, fourteen years later, Regine died. 

Julie Van Hard had become a fashionable personage in Paris, 
owing to her relationship with the Due de Morny, who was then 
one of the most powerful men in France. The Duke kept her 
plentifully supplied with money, and her gowns were the rage of 

Beautiful, of commanding stature, her glossy reddish -gold 
hair without a streak of grey in it, Julie was an idol to be wor- 
shipped by the youthful dilettantes of the gay city. No reception, 
no first night at a theatre, was complete without the presence of 
Julie Van Hard. 

Dressmakers besieged her to wear their gowns for nothing, 
in return for the advertisement she gave them. It was Julie 
Van Hard, mother of Sarah Bernhardt, who launched the famous 
Second Empire style of tightly-wound sleeves, with lace cuffs, 
square ddcolleti and draped gowns with long trains. She was a 
great coquette, and almost certainly the Due de Morny was not 
the only recipient of her favours. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 63 

Julie Van Hard's home was spacious, and was invariably filled 
with visitors. There was a dinner or an entertainment of some 
kind every night. Gathered in the two gorgeously-decorated 
salons one would see such people as Sarah's two aunts, Rosine 
Berendt and Henriette Faure ; Paul Regis, who stood as her god- 
father at Sarah's baptism ; General Polhes, an old friend of Julie's 
and godfather of Regine ; Madame de Guerard, Count de Larry, 
Due de Morny, Count de Castelnau, Albert Prudhomme, Vis- 
comte de Nou^, Comte de Larsan, Comte de Charaix, General de 
la Thurmelifere, Augustus Levy the playwright, Vicomte 
de Gueyneveau, and many others. 

Sarah seldom appeared at the parties in which these people 
figured. Their activities did not interest her. She had refused 
to continue with her piano studies, to the great disappointment of 
her mother, who was an accomplished pianiste. 

" I have always hated the piano ! " Sarah told me once in 
1890. " I think it is because Mile. Clarisse, my teacher, used to 
rap me on the fingers with a little cane she carried to mark the 
tempo. Whenever I hit a false note, down would come the cane, 
and then I would fly into a fury, charge the poor lady like a small 
tigress and try to pull her hair out. She did not remain to teach 
me very long and she was never replaced ! " 

The next candidate to Sarah's hand was a worthy glove-maker, 
named Trudeau. He was wealthy, as wealth was counted then, 
and while not precisely the son-in-law Julie would have wished, 
he would doubtless have been welcome enough in the family had 
he succeeded in breaking down the barriers Sarah had erected 
before her heart. 

Sarah's chief objection to Trudeau was that he was too fat. 

64 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Then, again, he was smooth-shaven, and it was accounted very 
ugly in those days not to have a moustache. Clean-shaven men, 
on entering a theatre, would often receive a jeering reception 
from the audience. The hirsute fashion of that period was long 
side-whiskers, a short, double-pointed beard, and a pointed, 
waxed moustache. 

Julie did not urge her daughter to marry Trudeau. She 
probably knew that any such effort would have been doomed to 
failure from the start. Trudeau, however, laid determined siege 
to the young girl for several months, during which he sent her, 
among other expensive gifts, a brooch of the sort that was after- 
wards known as a " la VaUiere." This brooch was among those 
recently sold by auction in Paris. 

To all his many proposals of marriage, however, Sarah turned 
a deaf ear. She would taunt him about his figure, which was 
short and broad, and above all she would jeer at his lack of a 

"Never will I marry a man who cannot grow hair on his face ! " 
she once declared. 

He persisted, until one day Sarah called him a " fat old pig " 
and threw the contents of a glass of champagne in his face. 
Then he accepted his congd, and went out of Sarah's life for 

Following Trudeau came a chemist, who had a shop at the 
corner of the Boulevard and the rue de la Michodifere. He had 
been captivated by the red-haired long-legged youngster who 
used to come to him to have prescriptions filled. I do not recall 
the name of this man, but I know that when Sarah refused him he 
consoled himself less than a month later by marrying a widow. 

Sarah Bernhardt. 
One of the best of the earliest pictures. 


Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 65 

Years later Sarah broke a parasol over his head, when he refused 
to promise not to supply her sister Jeanne with morphine. 

After that a succession of young men unsuccessfully petitioned 
for her hand. In a space of two years she had nearly a dozen pro- 
posals, all of which she refused with equal disdain. She was 
becoming a noteworthy character in Paris herself, but she, the 
child, was of course eclipsed by the brilliant beauty of her mother. 

These suitors came from all classes and conditions of society. 
At least one — the Vicomte de Larsan, a young fop whose father was 
a frequenter of Julie's house — ^was of noble birth and heir to a 
considerable fortune. He was twenty-two years of age, and when 
he asked her to marry him, Sarah slapped his face. 

I had many long talks with Sarah about these early romantic 
episodes. She loved to repeat reminiscences of her girlhood and 
she had an astounding memory. 

As far back as 1892, she told me that in her life she had received 
more than a thousand proposals of marriage, and that she could 
remember the name and the date of every one of them ! 

I was curious about these thousand proposals of marriage, 
and often tried to get her to give me the names. But she said 
that to do so might cause harm to some of the men concerned, 
many of whom were then happily married, and had children. She 
told me of many episodes, however, in which such secrecy was 
not necessary, and these episodes will be found in detail later in 
this book. 

" In my teens I cared nothing for men — they disgusted me ! " 
she said. " I was called a great little beauty, and men used to 
kneel at my feet and swear that they would jump in the Seine 
if I refused them. I invariably told them to go and do so ! 

66 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" I was indifferent to all men. My mother's flat at 22, rue 
de la Michodi^re, which had been beautifully furnished by the 
Due de Morny, was full of men visitors from early afternoon until 
late at night. I would keep out of their way as much as possible, 
and once I ran away for three days, because one of my mother's 
admirers persisted in making revolting proposals to me. * 

" Finally I returned one day from the painting school and 

found my mother and the servant out and P installed in 

the salon. Before I could escape, he had seized me and covered 
me with kisses. They were the first love-kisses I had ever 
received, and I was not to give one for years afterwards. 

" I struggled violently, bit him on the chin and scratched his 
face frightfully, but I was a weak child and he would have over- 
powered me eventually had not the door opened and my mother, 
followed by the Due de Morny, come in. Neighbours had heard 
my screams and were congregated outside the door. My mother 
was white with passion. 

" The Duke challenged P to a duel in secret, his rank 

preventing him from making the affair a public one. The duel 

was never fought, however, for P left that night for his 

home near Arcachon, and a few months later I heard he had been 
killed in a coaching accident near Tours. 

" The Vicomte de Larsan was the most persistent suitor, 

after P , and he was only a boy. I could not bear the sight 

of him, with his rouged cheeks, his scented hands, his powdered 
hair and his shirts covered with expensive lace. He used to 
wait outside the house for hours until I came out, and would make 
fervent declarations of love in the street. I grew to hate him, 
and I told him so ! 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 67 

" But at that time I hated nearly all men, except the Due de 
Morny. That nobleman was my mother's most faithful pro- 
tector, and he gave her large sums, which helped to pay for my 
education and my art lessons. He used to predict a great future 
for me. Not only did he stand sponsor for me for the Versailles 
convent but also procured my entrance into the Conservatoire. 

" Many people in those days thought that I was the Duke's 
natural daughter, and the legend has persisted. It was not true, 
though, for when I was born my mother was in exceedingly humble 
circumstances, and she did not meet the Duke- — a meeting which 
Changed her fortunes — until several years later." 

68 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


The first press notice that Sarah Bernhardt ever received was 
published in the Mercure de Paris in October i860, when she 
was sixteen years old. Curiously enough it did not concern her 
histrionic talent' — then just beginning to develop- — ^but related to a 
painting entitled " Winter in the Champs Elysees," with which 
Sarah had won the first prize at the Colombier Art School in the 
Rue de Vaugirard. 

Sarah gave me the clipping to copy — it was among her most 
prized possessions — and, translated, it reads as follows : 

" Among the remarkable candidates for admission to the 
Beaux Arts should be mentioned a young Parisienne of sixteen 
years, named Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt, who is a pupil at 
Mile. Gaucher 's class in the Colombier School. Mile. Bernhardt 
exhibits an extraordinary talent for one so young and her picture 
" Winter in the Champs Elysees," with which she has won the first 
prize for her class, is distinguished for its technical perfection. 
Rarely have we had the pleasure of welcoming into the Beaux 
Arts a young artist of similar promise, and there can be no doubt 
that very soon Mile. Bernhardt will be classed as one of our greatest 
painters and thus win glory for herself and her country." 

The painting in question was bought by an American friend 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 69 

of Sarah's some forty years later. I do not know how much was 
paid, but other early paintings of hers, which have sold privately 
during the past twenty years, have brought very large prices 

My mention of this first press criticism of Sarah's work brings 
to mind the day she brought me, a little girl, into the library at 
her house 11, Boulevard Malsherbes, and showed me four fat 
volumes each filled with newspaper clippings, and another one 
only just begun. On a chair was stacked a collection of envelopes 
each dated, containing other clippings, and these Sarah showed me 
how to paste in the book. It was a great honour for me. 

Later in the afternoon Maurice Bernhardt, then a small boy, 
came in and helped me, but I remember that he was more of a 
nuisance than a help, and he ended by tipping over the paste-pot 
and making a mess which I had to clean up. 

When she died Sarah possessed many of these fat volumes of 
press-cUppings, from every country in the world. It was said 
that if all the newspaper notices she received during her career 
could have been placed end to end, they would have reached 
around the world, and that if all the photographs printed of her 
could have been stacked in a pile, they would have reached higher 
than the Eiffel Tower. 

Somebody even calculated once that the name Sarah Bernhardt 
alone had been printed so often in newspapers and magazines, 
and on bills, programmes and the like, that the letters used would 
bridge the Atlantic, while the ink would be sufficient to supply the 
needs of The Times for two months ! 

I cannot vouch for this, but there can be no doubt whatever 
that, if the number of times one's name is printed is a criterion. 

70 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Sarah Bernhardt was by far the most famous person who has ever 
lived. For nearly sixty years never a day went by without the 
words " Sarah Bernhardt " being printed somewhere or other. 
When she returned from her American tour in 1898, the press- 
clippings she brought back with her filled a large trunk. 

The interesting point in all this is that only a very few writers 
concerned themselves with her painting and sculpture. Out 
of all the millions of articles written about her, a bare sixty or 
seventy concern her capabilities outside the theatre. 

If little was known of Sarah the artist, still less was known of 
Sarah the woman. That is why this book is written. 

Thousands of people who loved her as an actress never knew 
that she had been married ! Those who knew that she was a 
Jewess born were few indeed. Nothing was known of her intimate 
home Hfe, of her affaires du cceur, of her attempts at authorship, 
of the many plays she either wrote or revised. 

In all the multitudinous clippings in that wonderful collec- 
tion of hers, how many reveal the fact that Sarah Bernhardt 
was a certificated nurse ? How many persons know that she once 
studied medicine and was highly proficient in anatomy ? How 
many know that she was a vegetarian, and often said that her 
long life was due to her horror of meat ? How many know that, 
for many long years, until infirmity intervened, Sarah Bernhardt, 
the Jewess born, was a practising Catholic, seldom missing her 
Sunday attendance at Mass ? 

Is it not extraordinary that so little should really have been 
known of the most famous woman in the world ? Is it not amaz- 
ing that Sarah was able to conceal her home life under the glorious 
camouflage of her stage career ? 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 71 

Yet, looking back into history, how little is known of the 
great men and women who decorate its pages ! 

We know where Jean d'Arc was bom ; we know she saved the 
French armies from defeat ; but never has it been written where 
she went to school, and little or nothing is known of her family, of 
the mother who produced her, of the father who brought her up a 
heroine. Oliver Cromwell had a wife, yet what do we know of 
her ? George Washington was one of the greatest warriors of 
his day, yet we know little of the private life of the Father of 

I have always felt this lack of personal knowledge of our own 
great ones. Only recently have biogi-aphers realised the true 
scope of their task. Until the intimate story of Victor Hugo 
was pubUshed, some few years ago, how little we knew of the man 
who wrote three times as many words as there are in the Holy 
Bible ! 

This is somewhat of a digression, but one justified perhaps 
by the considerations involved. If the great and successful 
deeds of men of genius make entrancing reading, how much 
more absorbing can be the tale of their spiritual struggles 
and "mental fights" ? 

' And with her graduation from the art school — she was entitled 
to enter the Beaux Arts but never did — the real struggles of the 
lonely, temperamental child who was Sarah Bernhardt began. 
Though she did not know it, a war of impulses was going on within 
her soul. 

There was her great, her undoubted talent for painting and 
sculpture, which her teachers were convinced would soon make 
her a great personage. There was her budding dramatic talent 

72 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

which she was only beginning to suspect. There was her funda- 
mental morbidity, that would plunge her into moods during which 
she dreamed of and longed for death. There was the craving of 
her turbulent nature for the peace and tranquillity investing the 
life of a cloistered nun. There was her inherited unmorahty^ — 
I know of no other word with which to describe it — which was 
for ever tugging at her and endeavouring to drag her down into 
the free-and-easy existence led by her mother. There was her 
maiden heart, starving for affection. There was her delicate 
health, which made prolonged effort impossible. And lastly 
there was her iron will, inherited probably from her father. 

A phrase in one of the pathetic writings of Marie Bashkirtseff 
comes to my mind : "At the age of fourteen I was the only 
person remaining in the world ; for it was a world of my own that 
could be penetrated only by understanding, and no one, not 
even my mother, understood." 

How could the frivolous nature of Julie Van Hard have 
comprehended the deep waters that ran within the soul of her 
unwanted child ? 

Julie would be enormously vexed at Sarah's seeming dullness. 
When she had said something particularly witty — and Julie was 
witty according to the humorous standards of the period — and 
Sarah did not smile, Julie would cry : " Oh, you stupid child ! 
To think that you are mine. . . ! " 

Not even Sarah's achievements in the school of painting could 
convince Julie that she had not given birth to a child of inferior 
mentality. For what success Sarah had with her pictures, Julie 
took credit to herself.  

She was exasperated by Sarah's attitude towards the life she 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 73 

herself loved so well. Julie would remain for hours at table, 
surrounded by wits and half-wits, dandies and hangers-on at 
court, proud in the assumption that she was an uncrowned queen. 
At such parties Sarah would sit speechless, unable or unwiUing 
to join in the coarse sallies of her mother's guests. Her mother 
used constantly to refer to her in the presence of others as " That 
stupid child," or " That queer little creature." 

When she had an exceptionally important personage to enter- 
tain, Julie would forbid Sarah to show herself, fearful that her 
daughter's " stupidity " would injure her own chances. 

As constantly as she blamed Sarah, she praised and lavished 
affection on Jeanne, her " little Jeannot." Jeanne seemed to 
take naturally after her mother in aU things, and when she grew 
older she even surpassed her mother by the frivolous way in which 
she lived. 

The sad story of Jeanne will be told later, but it may be said 
that she had none of Sarah's vast intelligence, none of her good 
taste, none of her tremendous capacity for affection. Jeanne 
was without talent- — a pretty but vapid shell. Her father was 
not, of course, Edouard Bernhardt. 

Regine, on the other hand, took after Sarah, who practically 
brought her up. But Regine had Sarah's temper and wild, 
erratic temperament without Sarah's talent and Sarah's stubborn 
will. Where Sarah was firm and unyielding, Regine was merely 
obstinate. Where Sarah was clever, Regine was only " smart." 
She was a " pocket edition of Sarah," as her mother once 
remarked, without Sarah's depth of character. 

Two months after Sarah attained her sixteenth birthday, her 
mother moved to No. 265, rue St. Honore, not far from the Theatre 

74 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

FrangaiS' — better known as the Comedie Fran9aise — and Sarah 
delighted in loitering about the stage entrance and making friends 
with the actors and actresses who passed in and out. 

Sometimes she passed whole afternoons and evenings thus 
employed. Occasionally she would run errands for her idols, to 
be recompensed by a free ticket to the balcony. On one never- 
to-be-forgotten occasion Jules Bondy, one of the actors, took the 
eager little red-head into the theatre itself and installed her on 
a case in the wings, from which she could see the play without her- 
self being seen. It was Molifere's Le Midecin Malgre Lui, and 
from that time dated Sarah's love for the works of the actor- 
playwright to whom the Comedie Frangaise is dedicated. 

In later years Sarah played Moliere several times, but she made 
no notable success in this author's works. 

Sarah always longed to be a comedienne ; she might have 
been a great one, in fact, but for her greatergifts for tragedy, which 
prevented managers from risking her appearance in lighter drama. 
Great comediennes of merit are less rare than great tragediennes. 
In fact, I doubt whether there is living to-day an actress who will 
ever be called Sarah Bernhardt's equal in tragedy. 

Shortly after the household moved, Sarah fell down the stairs 
and broke her leg. An infection developed and it was two months 
before she was able to walk. When she finally recovered she was 
thinner than ever — a veritable skeleton. Her face maintained 
its eerie beauty, the large blue eyes retained their occasional 
fire, but the flush of fever relieved her habitual pallor and 
beneath her neck her body was httle more than a bag of 

She ceased wearing short dresses and took to long ones, for 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 75 

very shame of her thin hmbs. She wore thick clothes and corsets 
to pad herself out. She grew introspective, spending long hours 
alone or playing silently with her infant sister Regine, or reading 
books. Once Mile, de Brabender discovered her on her knees and, 
on inquiry, obtained the confession that she had been praying 
steadily for nearly three hours, 

•The rehgious habit again grew on her. The subjects for her 
brush were mostly saints, surrounded w ith the conventional halo 
She hung her room with religious pictures, some done by herself 
and some bought cheaply at a shop near the Church of St. Ger- 
main I'Auxerrois. Over her bed was a crucifix, modelled by 
herself from wax. 

She was confirmed at the age of sixteen years and 
five months, and wore the virginal white for days afterwards — 
until it grew so dirty, indeed, that her exasperated mother made 
her throw it away, * 

A priest had given her a rosary that had been dipped in the 
holy waters of Lourdes, and this she wore continually. In the 
quarter she became known sls" la petite religieuse. ' ' Doctors shook 
their heads, and predicted that she was falling into a decline, 
from which she would never recover. Her suitors fell off, one by 
one, until only a retired miller, Jacques Boujon, a man of fifty, 

To English readers it may seem incredible that a girl of sixteen 
should have had actual suitors, and among them men of position 
and wealth. This was nevertheless common in France in the 
middle of the last century, and it is by no means rare in the France 
of to-day. Added to this was Julie Van Hard's intense desire to 
rid herself, once and for all, of this strange child she had brought 

76 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

into being, whose sombre presence in her house of gaiety seemed 
to be a perpetual mockery. 

One day Sarah was visited in her bedroom, where she was 
studying, by her mother and Mile, de Brabender. 

" I want you to put on this new dress I have bought you, and 
then come down to the salon. There is something particularly 
important we have to say to you," said Julie. 

Sarah shivered. There seemed something extraordinarily 
portentous in her mother's manner. Who were " we " ? The 
child felt, as she told me years later, that that moment represented 
a cross-roads in her life. 

Overwhelmed with a dread she could not define, Sarah put her 
new dress on with trembhng fingers and descended to the salon. 
There she found quite a company awaiting her. Foremost in 
the party was the Due de Morny. Next to him was her mother. 
Across the table was Jean Meyedieu, her father's notary-pubUc. 
Next to him was Aunt Rosine. Madame Guerard, wearing 
an anxious look, occupied a seat near the fireplace. Mile, de 
Brabender, accompanied by Jeanne, followed Sarah in. 

The door was closed. Then Julie turned to her daughter. 
" Some months ago," she said, " you refused to consider a 
proposal of marriage from an honorable gentleman." 

Sarah remained mute. 

" To-day another honorable gentleman asks you to marry 

Storm signals flashed from the girl's eyes. " I will marry 
no one except God ! " she declared. " I wish to return to the 
Convent ! " 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 77 

" To enter a convent," put in Meyedieu, " one must have 
money, or else be a servant. You have not a sou ! " 

" I have the money my father left me ! " 

" No, you have not ! You have only the interest until you 
are twenty-one. If, at that age, you have not married, the terms 
of your father's will stipulate that you shall lose the principal." 

The Due de Morny intervened. 

" Do you think that you are right, dear, in thus going against 
the wishes of your mother ? " 

Sarah began to sob. " My mother is not married, yet she 
wants me to be a wife ! My mother is a Jewess, and she does 
not want her daughter to become a nun ! " 

" Leave the room ! " ordered Julie, angrily. 

Thus ended the second family council over the future of Sarah, 
and the problem was not yet solved. 

After this Sarah's existence in her mother's house became a 
torment. She seldom saw her parent ; and when she did, the 
latter hardly looked at her. She took her meals with Regine 
and Mile, de Brabender in the nursery. She abandoned art, and 
spent her days looking after her baby sister in the Champs 
Elysees and on the qtiais of the Seine. 

She still attended the theatre as often as she could, and became 
a faithful devotee of the Comedie. Often she would venture as 
far afield as the Chatelet, or the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, to 
witness plays at the Gymnase. 

One evening she returned, after a solitary evening at the 
theatre and, finding the salon empty, began to recite one of the 
parts she had seen. She had seen the play so often that the role 
of the heroine was practically graven on her memory. Believing 

78 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

herself entirely alone, she went right through with the piece, 
finishing with a dramatic flourish at the place where the heroine — 
I forget the play^ — was supposed to stab herself to death- 
There was a hearty " Bravo, bravo ! " and the Due de Morny 
rose from a chair in which he had been sitting behind a screen. 

The Duke went out and called to Julie and Rosine, and, when 
the two sisters entered, he asked the child to play the part again. 
At first bashful, Sarah eventually plucked up courage and finally 
did as she was asked. The Duke was much affected. 

" That memory and that voice must not be lost ! " he cried. 
" Sarah shall enter the Conservatoire ! " 

" She has no sense, but she is not bad at reciting," agreed 
Julie, scenting a happy compromise. 

The Conservatoire ? Sarah began to worry. What was this 
new horror to which they were so easily condemning her ? 

" What is it, the Conservatoire ? " she asked, hesitating. 

" It is a school, my dear," said the Duke ; " a school for great 

" To the Conservatoire, by all means ! " cried Aunt Rosine. 
" She is too stupid to be a good actress, but it will keep her out 
of mischief ! " 

The Duke was quite excited. 

" We have solved the problem ! " he cried. " Our Sarah is to 
become an actress ! " 

" But I don't want to be an actress ! " cried poor Sarah. 

Her objections were overridden, and that very night the Duke 
wrote to his friends at the Conservatoire, demanding that Sarah 
should be inscribed on the lists for admission. 

Sarah was now within a month of seventeen. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 79 


When application had been made to Auber, then director of the 
Conservatoire — who, on the Due de Momy's recommendation, 
had agreed to inscribe Sarah on his hstS' — it was found that only 
nine weeks remained before the examinations ! 

Even to-day, a conservative estimate of the time required for 
preparation for the Conservatoire is eighteen months. Many 
children start studying for it when they are ten or eleven. Rarely 
has any pupil succeeded in entering without at least nine months' 
preliminary study. And Sarah had only nine weeks ! 

Aunt Rosine was sceptical of Sarah's ability to pass the 
examinations. The Due de Momy was consoling. 

" You wiU not pass this time," he said, " but there are other 
examinations next year." 

As to Julie Van Hard, she was inexorable with her daughter. 

" You are my daughter. You shall not disgrace me by 
failing ! " she said to Sarah. 

Julie took the child out, and bought her books by the dozen. 
They consulted Hugo Waldo, an actor acquaintance, and on his 
advice chose the plays of Corneille, Moliere and Racine. Julie 
wanted the child to select a part in Phedre for her examination, 
but Mile, de Brabender, the probationer nun, said that this could 
not be permitted, as Phedre was too shocking a role to place on 
the lips of a jeune fille. 

8o Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

In the end, Sarah learned the part of Agnes in Molifere's Ecole 
des Femmes, but never used it in the examination. She passed 
most of her time learning to pronounce her " o's " and " r's " 
and " p's," and in practising the art of pronouncing each syllable 
separately and in putting the accent in the tone, rather than on 
the syllabic divisions. Nowhere is French spoken entirely purely, 
except on the stage of the better Paris theatres. 

The day of the examinations came, and Sarah was by now 
word-perfect. To enable her to say her part, however, it 
was necessary for someone to give the cues. This had not been 
thought of. 

Julie, whose taste in dress was exquisite but a trifle exotic, 
had out -done herself in her purchases of things for Sarah to wear 
on the great day. The go^^^l was black, deeply decollete about 
the shoulders ; a corset accentuated the extreme slenderness of 
her waist ; the skirt was short, but lacy drawers, beautifully 
embroidered, descended to the beaded slippers. 

Around her neck, Sarah wore a white silk scarf. Her hair, 
after an hour's tussle with the hairdresser, had been combed and 
tugged into some sort of order and was bound tightly back from 
the forehead with a wide black ribbon. The effect was bizarre. 
One of George Clairin's best-known sketches of Sarah showed her 
in the hands of the hairdresser on this occasion, her mother 
standing near. 

After what seemed an interminable wait in the hot, stifling 
auditorium of the Conservatoire, Sarah's name was called. 
Trembling, she ascended to the stage. On the way she tried to 
loosen the painful ribbon about her head, with the result that it 
came unpinned and her glorious mass of red-gold hair tumbled 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 8i 

forthwith about her face. Indeed when she mounted to the stage 
where the jury sat in uncompromising attitudes, her face could 
hardly be seen. 

" And what will you recite ? " asked the chairman, a man 
named Leataud. 

" I have learned the part of Agnes, but I have no one to give 
me my cues," said Sarah. 

" Then what will you do ? " 

Sarah was at a loss, but she regained courage suddenly on 
seeing two of the jury smiling at her encouragmgly. 

" I will recite to you a fable : ' The Two Pigeons,' " she said. 
When she had finished. Professor Provost, one of the jury, asked 
that she should be accepted. " I will put her in my class," he 
said. " The child has a voice of gold ! " 

This was the first occasion on which Sarah's " golden voice " 
was thus referred to. 

Sarah, who was eighth on the list at the Conservatoire, took 
no prize, but she was admitted ! She was mad with joy. Her 
mother condescended to praise her a little. Mile, de Brabender 
and Madame Guerard overwhelmed her with caresses. Little 
Sarah was a member of the Conservatoire ! Her career had begun. 

Sarah had no conspicuous success at the Conservatoire. She 
obtained indeed one second prize for comedy, but her great talent 
for the drama had not yet developed. With the exception of 
Camille Doucet — the jury voted unanimously that she could not 
be included among those to be given certificates of merit. Sarah, 
despite her second prize, returned home in tragic mood. 

" It was the second great disappointment of my life," she said, 
when she related it to me years later. " I crept up to my bed- 

82 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

room and locked the door. Had there been any poison at hand I 
would have taken it. I was seized with a great desire to end my 
life, I thought of the Convent, of Mere Sainte-Sophie. Oh, if 
they had only let me become a nun, instead of entering this 
vast, unkind world of the theatre ! I cried my eyes out and finally 
went to sleep, 

" When I awoke, it was late at night. There was not a sound 
in the house. My fury had spent itself, and only a great despair 
remained. The thought that I would have to face my mother 
the next day seared my soul. How could I stand her sarcasm, 
that cutting phrase I knew so well : * Thou art so stupid, child ! ' 

" I determined I would end it all for ever. I would die. I 
would creep out of the house while no one watched, run down to 
the quai and throw myself in the Seine, . . . 

" I approached the door, unlocked it, opened it cautiously. 
As I did so a piece of paper, that had been thrust into the jamb, 
fluttered to the ground, I took it nervously. It was a letter 
from Madame Guerard, my faithful old nurse. I retraced my 
steps into the room and held the letter to the candle as I 
incredulously read the message it contained : 

" ' While you were asleep the Due de Morny sent a note to 
your mother saying that Camille Doucet has confirmed that 
your engagement at the Comedie Fran9aise is arranged for. . , .' 

" My mood changed miraculously. I shouted with joy. I 
ran to the door, flung it open, ready to cry out my news to anyone 
who heard me. But the household slept. I went back to bed and 
cried myself to sleep for very happiness." 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 83 

The next day Sarah received a formal letter summoning her 
to the Com^die. The day following she was engaged, and signed 
her contract. Almost immediately the began rehearsing in the 
play Iphigenie. 

About two months before her eighteenth birthday Sarah made 
her dSbut at the Comedie, in a minor part. As a debutante from 
the Conservatoire, she was naturally fair prey for the critics. 
The greatest of these was Francisque Sarcey, who was credited 
with the power to make or break an actress. Managers hung on 
his verdicts. 

This is what that powerful critic had to say about Sarah on 
the occasion of her debut : 

" Mile. Bernhardt is tall and pretty and enunciates well, which 
is all that can be said for the moment." 

Another critic, James Berbier, wrote : 

" A young woman named Sarah Bernhardt made her ddbut 
at the Comedie on September i. She has a pretty voice 
and a not-unpleasing face, but her body is ugly and she has no 
stage presence." 

Still another, Pierre Mirabeau, declared : 

Sarah Bernhardt has no personality ; she possesses only a 



After Sarah's second dibut, in Valine, this same Mirabeau 
wrote : 

" We had the pleasure of seeing in the cast at the Com6die 

84 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

the young woman Sarah Bernhardt, who made her d^but recently 
in Iphigenie. She has improved, but she still has much to 
learn before she can properly be considered worthy of the House of 

When Sarah appeared in Les Femmes Savantes, Francisque 
Sarcey, who had ignored her in Valerie, devoted several lines to 
her : 

" Mile. Bernhardt took the role of Henriette. She was just 
as pretty and insignificant as in iphigenie and in Valeric No 
reflections on her performance can be extremely gay. However, 
it is doubtless natural that among all the debutantes we are asked 
to see there should be some who do not succeed." 

Sarah was furious at these critiques, but not as furious as her 
mother, who bitterly exclaimed : 

" See ! All the world calls you stupid, and all the world 
knows that you are my child ! " 

Her mother did not perhaps realise that her words cut the 
young actress straight to the heart. Above all things Sarah 
had wanted to please Julie ; above all things Sarah had feared 
her mother's harsh criticisms. 

That night she was found moaning in her dressing-room. A 
doctor, hurriedly called, declared she had taken poison, and she 
was rushed off to the hospital. 

For five days Sarah hovered between life and death, finally 
rallying after four of the best doctors in Paris had been called 
in to aid in the fight. 

In response to questioning by her old friend, Madame Guerard, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 85 

Sarah confessed that she had swallowed the contents of a bottle 
of liquid rouge. Asked the reason for this strange and terrible 
act she answered : 

" Life was useless ; I wanted to see what death was 
Hke ! " 

I have always believed that it was her mother's want of 
sympathy for her which caused Sarah's desperate act, and if there 
was another reason the world never knew it. Newspapers of the 
day attributed it to a love affair, but this Sarah denied when she 
related the episode to me^ — an episode, by the way, which is not 
included in her Memoirs. 

" I was wrapped up in my art, and had no serious love affairs 
at that time," she said. " I was simply despondent because I 
did not succeed fast enough. Why ! not a single critic praised 

It was the famous authoress Georges Sand who took Sarah in 
hand afterwards, preached love of life to her and persuaded her 
that a great future lay ahead. To Georges Sand Sarah one day 
confided : 

" Madame Sand, I would rather die than not be the greatest 
actress in the world ! " 

" You are the greatest, my child ! " said Madame Sand 
with conviction, and added : " One day soon the world will lie 
at your feet ! " 

Sarah's morbidity continued to be one of her chief charac- 
teristics however. She delighted in going to funerals ; and visiting 
the Morgue, that grim stone building with its fearful rows of 
corpses exposed on marble slabs, was one of her favourite diver- 

86 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Death had a weird fascination for her. Shortly after she entered 
the Comedie she had a love affair with an undertaker's assistant, 
but she broke off her engagement to him when he refused to 
allow her to be present at an embalming. 

She used to describe the robe she wished to be buried in : 
" Pure white, with a crimson edging, and with yellow lilies 
embroidered about the girdle." 

The crimson edging and the embroidery were absent when she 
was finally laid to rest. 

Later on we shall hear again of this morbid streak in the 
divine actress — ^how she designed and even slept in the very coffin 
in which she was buried ; how once she shammed dead in her 
dressing-room at the Odeon to such purpose that a hearse was 
sent for and the curtain rung down, while a tearful director 
announced her demise ! 

Her notorious temper had not left her. If anything, it was more 
violent than ever. The stage door-keeper at the Comddie on 
one occasion called her " Young Bernhardt," omitting the honorary 
prefix of " Mademoiselle." Without a word she broke her parasol 
across the man's head. Seeing him bleeding, she hurried for 
water, tore her silk petticoat into pieces, and bathed and bound 
his wound. 

Twenty years later, when her name was beginning to echo 
round the world, this same door-keeper came to her house and 
told her that he had lost his position through infirmity and was 
now at the end of his resources. 

With one of those gestures of munificence which mark the 
tragedienne's career like flashes of light, Bernhardt turned to her 
secretary and instructed him to buy the old man a cottage in his 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 87 

native Normandy, and to place a sufficient sum in trust to keep him 
for the remainder of his life. * 

Bernhardt made many enemies during her first years on the 
stage, and some of them remained her adversaries until their 
deaths. She outlived almost all of them. 

The afternoon of her debut at the Comedie was a matinee 
exclusively for professional folk and critics. One of the latter, 
an old and embittered man named Prioleau, was credited with 
being almost as powerful as Sarcey. He was the doyen of the 
critics, and as such occupied a privileged position in the wings. 

The better to see the performance, he shifted his chair until 
it partly blocked one of the exits. Sarah Bernhardt, going off the 
stage backwards, tripped over the legs of the critic's chair and 
nearly fell. On recovering herself, she seized the chair by it 
legs and pitched the critic to the floor. Then she turned on her 
heel with a fiery admonition to " keep your legs to yourself." 

Horrified actresses told the angry girl that the man she had 
insulted was Prioleau, the great critic. Returning to where the 
choleric old gentleman was picking himself up, Sarah set herself 
squarely in front of him, her eyes glinting fire. 

" If you dare to say or write a word about me," she warned 
him, " I will scratch your eyes out ! " 

The next day she sent him a written apology and a bunch of 
flowers, following this with a personal visit, in which she pleaded 
with the old man to forgive an act of which she would certainly 
not have been capable had she been in her right senses. Prioleau 
never forgave her, but he never used his heavy weapon of sar- 
casm against her. Perhaps he always secretly believed in her 
threat. He died not long afterwards. 

88 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Sarah was an extraordinary mixture of pugnacity and senti- 
ment. One day she found a dog investigating her overturned 
bottle of smelling-salts. Infuriated she dropped the poor Httle 
creature out of the dressing-room window on to a small ledge 
from which, if it had moved, it would have fallen four or five 
stories to the ground. 

Five minutes later shouts attracted a crowd to the dressing- 
room, where they found a maid desperately hanging on to Sarah's 
feet, while the young actress hung head downwards outside the 
window, in order to rescue the dog. Having got the animal up 
safely, she took it home and smothered it with kindness, 
never permitting it to leave her until it died of old age fourteen 
years later." 

Sarah's love for animals — particularly ferocious ones — ^was 
one of the abiding passions of her life. At different times she 
owned a pink monkey given her by an African explorer, a wild- 
cat which was presented to her during one of her American tours, 
and two hon cubs, baptised " Justinian " and " Scarpia." All four 
were tame and often accompanied her to the theatre, remaining 
in her dressing-room while she played. 

She also once brought back with her from Mexico a tiger cub, 
which terrorised her household and, when she took it to the 
theatre one day, nearly broke up the performance by eating and 
tearing the curtains. The cub was finally poisoned by somebody 
in Sarah's entourage. On one occasion I saw Sarah feeding live 
quails to this tiger cub in her dressing-room. The same day it bit 
Madame Johet, the prompter. 

Another savage creature Sarah once owned was a dog. She had 
only to say to him " Allez ! " (Go !) and he would spring at any- 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 89 

one's throat. One day when we were at the Hotel Avenida, 
Lisbon, Sarah asked me to go to my room to fetch something for 
her. As I went out I heard her say " Allez ! " and the dog sprang 
at me. Fortunately my husband arrived just in time, and tore 
the dog away. White with fury, Pierre said to Sarah : "If that 
happens again, I'll kill the brute ! " 

But I never believed Sarah did the thing deliberately. She 
was very apologetic. 

But this is digressing from our story. We left Sarah as a 
ddhutante at the Comedie Fran9aise. Her dehut, as we have seen, 
was not very brilliant. But if her entrance into France's most 
famous theatre was not particularly exciting, her exit was the 

90 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


In the Comedie Fran^aise stands a statue : the bust of Molifere, 
the great actor-pla3rwright to whom the theatre is dedicated. 
Each year, on the anniversary of his death, every actor and actress 
belonging to the company attached to the playhouse must file past 
the statue and salute. 

It was due to an incident occurring during this annual cere- 
mony that Sarah Bernhardt left the Comedie for the first time. 

The actresses were assembled in a corridor giving access to 
the statue — the socidtaires (actresses who had completed their 
period of apprenticeship) naturally taking precedence over the 
debutantes. All were in costume, and over the costumes they 
wore the long mantle, showing their badge of membership of the 
Comddie. These mantles had long trains and, in endeavouring 
to avoid treading on one of them, little Regine Bernhardt, who 
held Sarah's hand, inadvertently stepped on that worn by Madame 
Nathalie, one of the oldest actresses of the theatre, whom Sarah 
described as " old and wicked." 

Madame Nathalie turned and, roughly seizing the child, 
pushed her so violently that she was flung against a stone pillar 
bruising her side and cutting her face. 

Sarah Bernhardt forgot the solemnity of the occasion, forgot 
the distinction of the company, forgot everything except that her 
little sister had been wantonly struck. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 91 

" Beast ! " she cried, and, running to the old actress, slapped 
first one side of her face and then the other, as hard as she could 
strike. The blows resounded throughout the corridor. 

Madame Nathalie remained rooted to the spot. Sarah stood 
before her, with panting bosom and eyes flashing fire. For an 
instant it looked as though the ceremony would be spoiled, but 
other members of the company rushed between the two and they 
were hurried in different directions. 

The next day she was summoned to the office of M. Thierry, 
director of the Comedie. 

" Your conduct has been disgraceful, mademoiselle ! " he 
said, " and your engagement should be cancelled immediately, 
but I have decided to give you one chance to make amends. 
Waiting in the next room are Madame Nathalie, and two other 
socidtaires. You will apologise to Madame Nathalie, in their 
presence, and in mine." 

" Apologise to that woman who injured my baby sister ? " 
cried Sarah. " Never ! " 

" Think, mademoiselle," urged Thierry. " Unless you do so 
you leave the Comedie ! " 

Leave the Comedie ! After all the torturing months of prepara- 
tion, after all the help she had received from the Due de Momy, 
from Camille Doucet and her other friends, after the hard struggle 
at the Conservatoire. Sarah saw her mother's bitter eyes, heard 
her scornful tongue. 

She knew that her admission to the Comedie Frangaise had 
been an honour and a favour which her performances at the 
Conservatoire did not justify. She knew that if her engagement was 
cancelled it was possible that she might look in vain for other 

92 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

employment ; that every manager in Paris might be turned against 
her. More, she knew that her family would regard her leaving 
the Comedie as a personal insult to them, and it would, she realised, 
be no longer feasible for her to live at home. Sarah thought of 
her Aunt Rosine's triumphant " I told you so," and shuddered. 

But, on the other hand, she knew that she was in the right. 
A sense of tremendous injustice weighed upon her. This woman had 
struck her little sister, and she had administered a deserved 
correction. What though she were one of the oldest societaires 
at the Fran9ais. She should be the one to apologise ! 

It took Sarah some five minutes to arrive at this, her final, 
conclusion, and then, turning to M. Thierry, she said : 

" If Madame Nathahe will apologise to Regine, I will apologise 
to her ! " 

M. Thierry looked at her incredulously. 

" You mean that you will allow a question of pure pride to 
interfere with your career and perhaps spoil your future ? " he 

" I mean that if the whole incident occurred again, I would 
slap Madame Nathahe twice as hard ! " said Sarah angrily. 

M. Thierry turned back to his papers. 

" Very well, mademoiselle," he said ; " you have until 
to-morrow afternoon to change your mind ! " 

Sarah did not apologise, and she was not immediately sent 
away. Her powerful friends who had supported her in her effort 
to enter the theatre made representations to M. Thierry, and, 
much against his will, he agreed to give the young actress another 

But Madame Nathahe nursed her spite, and when, a few weeks 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 93 

later, Sarah was given the role of Dolores, in the play of that name 
by Brouihet, she contrived to influence the director to take the 
part away from the girl, almost on the eve of production, 
and give it to Madame Favart. 

No sooner did Sarah learn this than she bounded into M. 
Thierry's office. 

" Give me my contract ! " she cried. " I resign ! I will 
have nothing more to do with your theatre ! " 

The same evening she was again a free agent. She had left 
the Comedie. When she returned home to inform her mother of 
her action, the latter took it coolly. 

" Very well," said Julie, " you need look for no further help 
from me, or from my friends. Hereafter you can do with your 
life as you wish ! You are emancipated ! " 

Sarah was then eighteen years old. From that day on she 
was free of maternal control, and a few weeks later she secured 
a minor part at the Gymnase. After playing this, she was 
promised a leading part in a play called Launching a Wife, 
but this promise was not kept. In her anger, Sarah left the 
theatre, packed her trunk, and, with less than a thousand francs, 
left suddenly for Spain. 

In Madrid she developed a passion for bull-fighting. At one 
moment, according to Caroline, her maid, she became engaged to 
Juan Lopez, a famous matador, but at a dinner given to celebrate 
the engagement, which was attended by famous personalities of 
the corrida, Lopez drank too copiously of the strong vintages of 
Spain, and Sarah, disgusted, left him and the dinner party 
and returned to her hotel. This incident decided her return 
to Paris, and, borrowing the necessary money from the manager 

94 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

of the hotel, who had known her father, she left the next day. 

This was the first of two mysterious visits Sarah paid to Spain. 
Of the second, which occurred some eleven years later, practically 
nothing is known. ***■ 

'Now began the most painful period of Sarah Bernhardt 's 
life. No longer able to face the daily tirades of her mother and 
her aunts, who called her lazy, idle and wilful, she left the former's 
flat and took one of her own in the rue Duphot, close by the 

She drifted away from her family and the friends of her 
childhood and made questionable acquaintances in the fast- 
living set where her beauty, originality and wit made her 
much sought after. She became a well-known figure in certain 
salons and in the restaurants d la mode. 

Now and again she played small parts in various theatres, 
but long intervals occurred between the occasions on which she 
worked. Her figure remained excessively slender, boyish and 
agile. It never became really full, but its slenderness was less 
noticeable after she had given birth to her son, Maurice. It 
then to some extent rounded out, only to become thin again when 
she was forty, at which epoch she invented the shoulder-length 
glove to conceal the skeleton-like outline of her arms. 

The birth of her son was the event which changed Sarah's 
whole life. It gave her something to live for. Until then she 
had been a wilful, spoiled, eccentric girl, given to tremendous 
fits of temper which were invariably followed by prolonged 
periods of despondency. 

She had few intimates, and the friends who gathered round her 
were not of the sort likely to set her feet in the right direction. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 95 

She had spells of strenuous energy, which would be succeeded by 
fits of laziness lasting sometimes for months, during which time 
she would live parsimoniously on small sums borrowed from stage 
acquaintances or from her mother's friend, the Due de Morny, 
who still remained faithful to the child for whom he had done so 

Nothing, unless it was her eccentricity, distinguished her from 
the hundreds of other lovely girls at that time adorning the Paris 
stage. She had given up her attempts at painting, after moderate 
successes gained at several salons ; the passion for modelling had 
not yet seized her, and, although she had undoubtedly immense 
talent for acting, she neglected to develop it, with the result that 
her theatrical engagements were few and far between. 

She and her young sister Jeanne, then aged only fourteen, 
would often be seen at public balls of the better class, dancing 
with a cohort of young men, amongst whom were included some of 
the wildest members of society. She was frequently a guest at 
smart but somewhat questionable entertainments in the homes of 
titled acquaintances, whose riches were expressed in the luxury and 
the beautiful women with whom they surrounded themselves, and 
in the amount of rare wines they and their friends consumed. 

Of average height, exceptionally slim, with blue eyes alternately 
flashing wit and fire, and invariably costumed in the latest fashion, 
Sarah, as she neared her majority, was in danger, despite her great 
talent, of falling into that bottomless pit which still exists in 
Paris for beautiful girls, and out of which it is so difficult to climb. 

She was a member of one of the fastest sets of a fast city, and 
only a miracle could have been expected to save her. Her health 
was bad, she had frequent spells of coughing, and the tell-tale 

96 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

flush of fever was constantly on her cheeks. To all admonitions, 
however, she would reply that, if her life was to be a short one, 
she had better enjoy it to the full while there was yet time. 

But the needful miracle happened. As the result of an ardent 
love affair, almost certainly with a man of princely family, she 
gave birth to a boy, whom she named Maurice. 

As in her own case, the accouchement was a difficult one, and 
complications ensued which rendered her recovery doubtful. 
The child was under-sized but robust, and from his birth he 
resembled his mother. 

Motherhood to Sarah was at once a boon and a scourge that 
whipped her flagging consciousness of right and wrong. 

It brought her face to face with the hard realities of the path- 
ways of error, but it gave her the strength of character she 
had lacked and which was to lead her up from and out of these 
dangerous pathways. It provided her with the one thing that 
had been so far lacking in her character. 

Motherhood gave Sarah Bernhardt ambition. 

If from then on she became greedy of praise and publicity, 
she at the same time became a strenuous worker ; if she was hard 
with those whom she used as stepping-stones, she was harder 
with herself ; if she allowed her tongue to become caustic and 
her manner overbearing, it was because life had been revealed to 
her in its veritable aspect, and because she realised the supreme 
necessity of building a wall between herself and her past. 

Intolerant of criticism, exquisite in her art, mighty in labour, 
Sarah Bernhardt lavished on her tiny son a love she had never 
believed she could feel for any human being. 

Every aim of her existence was to provide for him while 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 97 

he was young the shield of respectability she herself had never 
known. - 

Proud though she might be to the exterior world, she was 
humility itself before the cradle of her child. 

And her struggle was no easy one. She told me of it one day 
on board ship while we were travelling to the Near East, 
and so deep an impression did her words make on me that I can 
remember them almost textually. 

" When my son was born," she said, " I had, for all my 
fortune, the sum of two hundred francs. If it had not been for 
Madame Guerard, who officiated at the birth of my child as she 
had officiated at my own, I do not know what I should have 

" I owed ten times two hundred francs in small tradesmen's 
bills, scattered about the city. My mother was ill, and could not 
be appealed to. I was ashamed to go to my other friends, such 
as the Due de Morny, who would have been only too glad to 
have helped me, and I forbade Madame Guerard to say a word to 
anyone about my predicament. 

" When my sister Regine came to see me, she was told that 
I had a contagious disease and could not be seen. Later on it 
was given out that I had left Paris for a holiday in the country. 
* " When the first week was up I had scarcely a sou. It was 
then that I determined to appeal to the one man whom duty 
should have compelled to aid me, and I sent a letter to the 
Prince, imploring him to take pity upon me and upon our child. 

" The Prince's reply was brutality itself : ' I know a woman 
named Bernhardt,' he wrote, ' but I do not know her child.' 
The note enclosed — fifty francs ! 

98 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" I persuaded myself that there was a mistake. I could not 
beheve that the man I had loved could be so cruel. 

" I dragged myself out of bed and went, faint and ill, to a 
mansion in the rue de Lille, where the Prince was that night 
giving a joyous fete. 

" I was shown into an ante-room and waited nearly an hour 
before the Prince finally condescended to see me. 

" Standing there in the doorway like a magistrate come to 
judge — to judge me, the mother of his child whom I carried in 
my armS' — he asked me what I wanted. I could not believe his 

" ' I have come to show you your child, and to demand your 
recognition of him ! ' I answered. 

" The Prince's reply was to become purple with anger, to 
thump his fist on the table, and not only to deny the child, but 
to make the most monstrous allegation conceivable. 

" Nearly fainting, I went from the house in tears, my baby's 
cries mingling in my ears with the music of the dance and the 
shouts of the reckless party within." * 

Such was the first great trial of the woman who was to become 
the most famous tragic actress on the world's stage. 

The fortitude that Sarah Bernhardt gave proof of then became 
the basis of the strong character which slowly formed from that 
day onwards. Scorned by the man who of aU men had best the 
right to help her, Sarah bitterly determined to make the males of 
the species pay for the agony of her calvary. 

This was the turning point of Sarah Bernhardt 's life. In one 
respect the world owes the evil Prince  — — a debt, for had he 
recognised the child, had he lavished money and tenderness upon 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 99 

the mother, there is a probabiHty that she would never have found 
the will and determination which were the earnest of her future 
success. Never was the adage that courage is born of necessity 
truer than in the case of the young Sarah Bernhardt. 

''Forced to work to support her child, whom she sent to a pro- 
fessional nurse in Normandy, Sarah laboured with a fierceness 
and a tenacity unequalled in the history of the stage. 

She found work at the Gymnase, at the Porte St. Martin, 
at the Vaudeville, at the Lyric and at other theatres. Never 
allowing herself a moment's rest, studying her parts far into the 
night, arriving always the first for rehearsals, she gamely set foot 
on rung after rung of the ladder which she had herself set up. 

Her reputation, which had been so sadly tarnished by her 
previous mistakes, became once more satisfactory. She enjoyed 
the friendship of influential managers and playwrights. It was 
not long before she became marked for success. Critics began 
to comment favourably on her work, especially in La Biche au 
Bois, a play at the Porte St. Martin, which gave her her first 
opportunity as a star, and which resulted in her being offered 
a contract by M. Fournier for three years. * 

Before she' accepted this contract, however, Lambert Thiboust, 
a well-known playwright, asked her to take the name part in 
La Berghre d'lvry, and she accepted' — subject, of course, to the 
approval of the directors of the Ambigu theatre, where the piece 
was to be played. 

These directors were two men named Faille and Chilly. 
Chilly had a mistress, Laurence Gerard, whom he desired to have 
the part. To please Thiboust, however, they consented to give 
Sarah a hearing in the rehearsal room of the Ambigu, and thither 

100 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

she went and recited a part she had learned at the Comedie 
Fran9aise in On ne hadine pas avec V amour. There was complete 
silence until she had finished, and then Faille rose and shook his 
head sadly. 

" My poor little girl," he said, with assumed sympathy, " you 
cannot take this part ! You are too thin- — and, besides, you are 
in no way equipped for the theatre ! You are not even a good 
actress ! " 

Sarah could hardly believe her ears. 

" Tenez," pursued Faille, " here is Chilly, who has heard you 
from behind that curtain. Ask him what he thinks." 

Sarah turned to Chilly, the little director who was later 
to be intimately associated with her career, 

" Lambert Thiboust is crazy ! " said Chilly shortly. " You 
would be no good in the part, mademoiselle I We cannot give 
it to you ! " 

As Sarah went out, more or less in a daze, she passed Laurence 
Gerard on her way in. Then she realised why she had lost the 

Later on. Chilly became famous as co-director of the Odeon. 
Faille never succeeded, and years later, taking pity on him, Sarah 
Bernhardt acted in a benefit performance to establish a fund 
for his old age. 

Sarah was ever generous in such matters. She never forgave 
an enemy who remained powerful, but she could always forgive 
and forget when poverty or misery overtook those who had done 
her harm. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her loi 


Following the fiasco of her lost engagement at the Ambigu, 
Sarah Bernhardt visited her old and faithful friend, Camille 
Doucet. She was kept waiting some minutes in an ante-room, 
and, on being bidden eventually to go into his office, almost ran 
into a tall, handsome young man, who had been in conference 
with Doucet. The man stopped and apologised, and Sarah was 
conscious of two deep-set blue eyes regarding her with a real 

" Is this not Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt ? " the tall man 
asked. On Sarah's hesitating admission that he was right, the man 
continued : 

" I have just been talking to Doucet about you. Come in, 
and we will see him together." 

Sarah followed him, not knowing who her new acquaintance 
was, nor understanding the nature of his business with her. 
Once in Camille Doucet's office, however, she was quickly informed. 

" This is Pierre Berton, junior," said Doucet, introducing 
her, " He would like to see you a member of his company at 
the Odeon." 

Sarah was overwhelmed. Pierre Berton was then one of the 
most popular actors on the French stage ; he was also, after 
Mounet-SuUy, the handsomest. To have been singled out by 
him for a part at the Odeon was an honour she had never dared 

102 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

dream of. There was no actor in France with whom she would 
sooner have worked. 

Sarah was too much taken aback at the sudden proposition 
to say much. Extending her hand to Berton, she thanked him 
with a smile. 

" There is, however, an obstacle," went on Doucet. " I 
have just learned this morning that the Odeon staff has been 
reorganised and that Chilly has been named co-director with 

Sarah's spirits fell like lead. How could she hope for an 
engagement at the Odeon, when one of the men who would have 
to sign her contract was the same who had, only a few days pre- 
viously, said publicly that she could not act ? Seeing her down- 
cast Berton tried to reassure her. 

" You need not be afraid of Chilly ! " he said. " I have 
spoken to Duquesnel, and he is on our side. Chilly will have to 
agree ! " 

An appointment was made for Sarah to see Duquesnel on the 
following day and, after some further conversation, Berton offered 
to accompany Sarah home. In the cab Sarah asked him what 
was the reason for his interest in her. 

" Since the day I saw you in Les Femmes Savantes at the 
Comedie Frangaise," Berton answered, " I have believed that 
you would one day become a very great actress, but I believe 
also that you need someone to aid you with the directors, who do 
not understand your temperament. I have watched you for two 
years, and I am prepared to help you at the Odeon, as far as 
possible, if you will allow me to do so." 

Sarah's reply, Berton told me in later years after I had 

Pierre Berton, Husband of Mme. Berton, and one of Sarah's Earliest 

Intimate Friends. 

p. 102. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 103 

become his wife, was to seize and kiss his hand impul- 

From that moment began the wonderful romance which 
developed between these two — Pierre Berton, the accomplished 
and successful actor, and Sarah Bernhardt, the debutante of 
twenty-two. Their relationship lasted a little over two years. 
When it finished — we shall see why presently — Sarah was as 
great an actress as he an actor. In two short years she had 
leaped to fame. 

They met, as arranged, in Duquesnel's office at the Odeon, 
on the day following Sarah's meeting with Berton and Doucet. 
Sarah was immediately taken with Duquesnel, a mild, blue-eyed 
man, endowed with prodigious activity and with the name 
of being possibly the greatest metteur-en-scene in Paris. He was 
exceedingly courteous to her and set her at ease immediately 
by declaring that he thought her engagement could easily be 

She asked about Chilly. " You shall see him to-morrow," 
promised Duquesnel. Sarah looked at Berton. 

" I have spoken to him," said the actor, " and he has promised 
to leave the engagement of the company in my own hands, pro- 
viding the salaries and the lengths of the contracts are supervised 
and agreed to by him and Monsieur Duquesnel." 

Later on Sarah discovered that what had actually happened 
was that Chilly, spoken to the evening before, had flatly dechned 
to consider Sarah as a member of the company. 

" She is not an actress, and shows no promise of ever being 
one ! " he repeated. 

And then Pierre Berton had threatened to resign, so that 

104 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

in face of this threatened calamity Chilly had given way. He 
had insisted, however, that the responsibility for Sarah's engage- 
ment should rest with Berton and Duquesnel. 

The next day Sarah went to Duquesnel's office again, and was 
introduced to Chilly, who presented her with her contract. 

" Believe me, mademoiselle," he said, " had I been alone in 
this matter, you would not have been engaged ! " 

" If you had been alone here I would not have consented to 
sign ! " said Sarah haughtily. 

For months after that, she told me, she hated Chilly. In 
reality, however, he was a decent little fellow, and a man of 
great ability, whose only fault was his obstinacy. Later on he 
and Sarah became fast friends, and when Sarah left the Odeon, 
to return to the Comedie Fran9aise as the triumphant idol of the 
French stage, it was Chilly who went on his knees to her and 
implored her to reconsider her decision. 

Sarah entered the Odeon in 1866. In 1868 she was famous. 
In 1872 she re-entered the Comedie Fran9aise, where she 
remained eight years. In 1882 she was married, and in 1889 
became a widow. 

I give these dates now because the period comprised by them 
was that in which Sarah Bernhardt reached the supreme pinnacle 
of her glory, and it was during this period, also, that the most 
romantic episodes of her life occurred. 

Le Jen del' Amour etdu Hasard (The Game of Love and Luck), 
by Marivaux, was the piece in which Sarah made her debut 
at the Odeon. Berton and Duquesnel were mortified. Chilly 
was triumphant : Sarah had failed ! 

There was no mistaking the failure. Scarcely any applause 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 105 

was vouchsafed the young actress and so conspicuous was her lack 
of success that the piece was withdrawn within a few weeks, 
after playing to half -empty houses. 

Chilly wanted to break her contract, but Berton and Duquesnel 
restrained him. Berton gave it as his opinion that Sarah was 
made for tragedy, whereas the play by Marivaux was a comedy, 
and Sarah's part obviously unsuited to her. 

Among the famous people who were in the audience the night 
Sarah Bernhardt made her dehut at the Odeon was Alexandre 
Dumas the elder. After the play was over Sarah overheard 
Duquesnel ask him : 

" What do you think of the young Sarah ? " 

" She has the head of a virgin and the body of a broom- 
stick ! " retorted Dumas, dryly. 

Sarah was then earning the munificent sum of 100 francs 
(four pounds) a month. From the estate of her father she still 
received a small amount' — not more than 200 francs monthly, 
and on this income was obliged to live. 

For several months she worked as an understudy, Chilly 
obstinately refusing to consent to her taking any important roks. 

During this period the love of Pierre Berton for his erratic 
little protegee grew enormously. On more than one occasion he 
asked her to marry him, but Sarah refused, on the ground that it 
would be unfair to the woman who for years had lived with Berton 
as his wife, and who had presented him with four children. 

The fact that Berton was willing and even anxious to abandon 
this woman (his wife in all but name) and his family indicates 
the depth of his passion for Sarah Bernhardt. He confessed to 
me in later life after our marriage that " the days that Sarah 

io6 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Bernhardt consented to devote to me were like pages from im- 
mortality. One felt that one could not die ! " 

That Sarah returned his love is a fact too well known to need 
confirmation here, but I have always doubted whether she gave 
to Pierre the full and sincere depth of the passion he brought to 
her. Sarah's was a nature too complex to harbour any deep 
feeling for long. 

There is also the indisputable fact that at this moment she 
was living solely for the stage, the animating force within her 
being a determination that her baby son should never lack for 
money or advantages. Neither has he, throughout his long life. 

Life at the Odeon was toil fierce and unremitting, but Sarah 
loved it. She would wake at nine o'clock and read over her 
parts, both in bed and while she was dressing. At eleven o'clock, 
and often again in the afternoon, there were rehearsals of plays 
quite different from the one that was to be given at night. 

Her evident desire to work, combined with the glorious quality 
of her voice, which was already becoming renowned among play- 
goers, brought even the manager. Chilly, round to her side. 
Reliability and hard work were his two fetishes. He could not 
forgive Sarah her thin legs, but he was madly enthusiastic over 
her voice. 

" Oh ! if you could only act ! " he said to her on more than 
one occasion. 

Fine acting is not precisely a gift of the gods ; it is the ulti- 
mate result of a willingness to acquire technique by constant 
attention to petty details. No actor ever became great over- 
night who had not spent weary months in the acquisition of 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 107 

Now, three principal acquirements go to make up stage tech- 
nique. First, there is what is known as stage presence, or the 
abihty to lose one's o-s^tl individuality in the part one is playing. 
Secondl3^ there is the speaking voice, which should be so perfected 
that a whisper may carry drama, pathos or humour to the topmost 
gallery and be understood. Thirdly, there is memory. 

Sarah had the voice and she certainly had a marvellous memory. 
She could take the book of a new part at night and return on the 
following afternoon with the role committed to memory. Once 
she had learned it, Sarah never forgot a part, even though she might 
be playing two different pieces, afternoon and night. 

WTien Berton wrote Zaza, the play for which he is best known 
in England, she went over it with him, taking a whole night to do 
it. The next day Berton was to read it to an audience of managers 
and producers. While he was reading the third act, Sarah 
objected to his way of interpreting one of the parts. 

" It should go like this," she said — and forthwith she recited 
for fifteen minutes words which she had only read once. On 
comparison with the book it was found that she had not made a 
single mistake. 

In the '8o's I attended a picnic at St. Germain, and heard Sarah 
recite a part in Iphiginie, the first play in which she appeared at 
the Comedie Fran9aise, and in which she played only on two 
occasions during her long career. There was never a moment 
after she became internationally famous when Sarah could 
not recite out of her prodigious memory the whole of the words 
of any one of fifty or sixty different plays. 

I have said that her voice was becoming known in Paris. 

io8 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

One day Georges Sand came to her dressing-room. Looking very 
mysterious, she said : 

" There is a gentleman outside who has fallen in love with your 
voice ! " 

" Send him away ! " retorted Sarah petulantly. She was in 
a bad humour, in consequence of a quarrel with Berton. 

" You cannot send this man away, my dear ! " said Madame 
Sand. "He is the Prince ! " 

" Never mind ; I do not want to see him, Prince or no Prince," 
declared the young actress. 

After much coaxing, however, she consented to meet the 
" gentleman in love with her voice," and descended to the stage, 
where she found Prince Napoleon talking with Louis BouiUiet. 
Sarah shook his hand, instead of kissing it, as was the custom, 
and said never a word. The Prince was furious. 

" She is spiteful, your little kitten," he said to Georges Sand. 
" She is a Madonna, sire ! " said the authoress. 
" A Madonna who acts like a devil ! " retorted the Prince, 
shortly, and, turning on his heel, he walked away. 

He came back many times, however, and was often one of a 
party in Sarah's dressing-room. The news that she was the 
recipient of royal favour soon got abroad, and sarcasms were 
printed in some of the liberal weeklies. When she read them, 
Sarah sent a note to the editors : 

" Criticise my performances on the stage if it pleases you, 
but my private life should be free of insult. Furthermore, I 
have loyal friends who will protect my name with their 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 109 

This, too, was published, and all Paris laughed at the actress 
who thought it an insult that her name should be linked with 
that of a prince. Other people in the profession thought it a 
pose, but Sarah was quite sincere. She was fascinated by the 
smooth, cynical flow of the Prince's conversation, and she could 
not openly bid him remove himself from her presence. At the 
bottom of her heart, however, she disliked him profoundly and 
was at small pains to conceal it. 

Once an artist of revolutionary tendencies, one Paul Des- 
hayes, entered Sarah's dressing-room, to find there Prince 
Napoleon, Madame Sand and several others. Deshayes was 
seeking his gloves, which he had left in the room a few minutes 
before. Turning to the Prince he said curtly : 

" You are sitting on my gloves, monsieur ! " 

The Prince, turning red with anger at this unceremonious 
mode of address, took the gloves and flung them on the floor. 

" I thought the chair was clean ! " he said contemptuously. 

Sarah Bernhardt jumped to her feet, picked up the gloves, and 
handed them to Deshayes. 

Then, turning to the Prince, she said hotly : 

" Politeness used to be considered a privilege of kings, sir, 
but I perceive that they do not teach it to princes ! " 

This incident also found its way into print and Sarah's reputa- 
tion gained another notch. All this time she had yet to score 
a genuine success on the stage. 

This came towards the end of her first year at the Odeon, 
in circumstances which were much commented on at the time. 
All Paris was in arms against Alexandre Dumas, the most mahgned 
author who has ever lived. On the night of the premiere of Kean, 

no Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Dumas appeared in a box at the Odeon accompanied by his 
mistress, Ada Montrin. 

Cries came from all over the house calling on him to " send 
the woman away." Dumas tried to speak, but his voice was 
drowned in cat-calls. Hundreds of students stood on their 
seats, chanting an obscene song that had been written about 

Finally the woman and Dumas both left' — the latter to take 
refuge behind the wings, and the former to depart from his life 
for ever. 

Duquesnel, Chilly, Berton and the whole company were in 
terror when the curtain was about to be raised. They expected 
a warm reception and — they got it Berton, who was playing 
the part of Kean, could not make his voice heard beyond the 
footlights. For a moment there was a question of cancelling the 

Then Sarah Bernhardt, in the first big role of her career — that 
of Anna Danby — came upon the stage, and, from the first words, a 
hush settled over the house. Her glorious voice filled the theatre. 

Cahn and unflurried, though in reality intensely nervous, Sarah 
continued speaking her part. The words of the poet were given 
their exact intonation, every syllable distinct from its neighbour, 
and fell upon the breathless house like the limpid notes of a 

When she had finished, there was at first silence, and then a 
roar of approval. Sixty students, their hands locked together, 
rushed round the house and threatened to invade the stage. 
Sarah, appalled, believed it was a demonstration against her. 
Her cue came to leave the stage. She rushed off and up to her 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her iii 

dressing-room, whence she could dimly hear the unceasing roar 
from the theatre. 

Duquesnel, rushing in, found her white as a sheet with terror. 
Duquesnel himself was pale, and perspiring in great drops. 

" Come ! " he said to Sarah, extending his hand, " they want 
you ! " 

Sarah shuddered and shrank backwards. 

" Come ! " said Duquesnel again, impatiently. " I tell you 
they want you ! — Hark, cannot you hear them calling ? " 

Through the open door the din from the house came with 
greater volume. Sarah could not distinguish a word. 

" They are mad about you, child ! " cried Duquesnel, as he 
saw she did not believe him. " They will not let the play go on 
until you go on and speak to them ! " 

Then Sarah understood that this was not failure. It was 
triumph, success, glory ! She took Duquesnel's arm and went 
hesitatingly on to the stage, not even noticing that she was still 
attired in the kimono which she used as a wrap between the 

When she appeared before the curtain pandemonium broke 
lose. " Sarah ! " " Sarah ! " " Our Sarah ! " the audience 

And " Our Sarah " she was to the populace of Paris from that 
day onwards. 

She was famous. She hurried back into the wings and brought 
on Berton Senior, and they gave him an ovation too. But always 
there was the chant : " Sarah ! " " Our Sarah ! " 

The students were mad. Sarah resolved to win them over 
to Dumas, and sent word for him to come on the stage. But 

112 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Dumas had gone, suffocated by tears at what he beUeved bitterly 
to be the assassination of his brain-child. The next morning, 
when he learned the truth, he sent Sarah a note thanking her. 
Sarcey was the only critic who did not join in the chorus of 
praise which followed in the press. Writing in the Courrier de 
la Semaine he stated : 

" I have nothing to add to my previous opinion of Made- 
moiselle Sarah Bernhardt, who, it appears, had some success 
with the noisy students the other night. Her voice is exquisite, 
certainly, but she is just as certainly not an actress." 

The original means Sarah took to humble Sarcey and to bring 
him to her side will be described in the next chapter. Meanwhile, 
he remained her most bitter and most persevering critic. 









(U . 
• ^ +-' 

Cu -a 






Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 113 


Out of a multitude of aspiring actresses Sarah Bernhardt, at the 
age of twenty-four, had jumped into celebrity practically in a 
single night. The success of Kean continued ; the theatre was 
packed night after night. Berton, hitherto the greatest figure on 
the stage of the Odeon, himself had to bow before the woman whose 
genius he had been the first to perceive. 

Their intimacy continued, though necessarily in secret, on 
account of Berton's other attachments. Success turned Sarah's 
shock head a little, but for many months she remained faithful 
to the loyal man who had befriended her and had made her 
victory possible. Their idyll was the talk of the theatre. No one 
then dreamed how bitterly she would turn against him in later 

She had no lack of other admirers. They flocked round her. 
There was Jules Garnier, and most notable of all perhaps Fran9ois 
Coppee, whose genius Sarah discovered in an odd way. 

She was dining in the house of a friend and was introduced 
to a small, pale-faced young man, whose wealth of dark hair was 
smoothed back from his brow. " He had," Sarah told me later, 
" the eyes of a dreamer and the head of a saint." 

Coppee shyly shook her hand, and seemed to want to say 

something, but to be too bashful. 

" Come, Fran9ois," urged Madame Agar, the great tragedienne, 


114 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

who was the hostess, " you have been wanting to meet Mile. 
Bernhardt for weeks, and now that you have the chance you are 
dumb ! " 

" He has written a play," she explained to Sarah, " and he 
thinks that you should be the one to play in it." 

" It was written for you," said the young poet, simply. 
Fran9ois Coppee was then unknown, and Sarah had never 
heard his name before. But the subtle compliment of writing 
a play round her touched her heart, and she determined to grant 
him his wish. 

" We will hear it at once ! " she decided. 
Two hours later she had enthusiastically promised to make 
Duquesnel and Chilly produce the piece, which was called Le 
Passant, and within four months it was produced at a benefit 
matinee. Then, after it had proved an enormous success, it was 
included in the regular Odeon repertoire, which it has never since 

If Kean had been a triumph for Sarah, Le Passant was a 
vindication. There had been many to hint that her success in 
Kean was only an accident due to fortuitous circumstances and 
to the fact that she was popular with the students who thronged 
the theatre on the first night. But when she carried all before 
her in Le Passant, she proved herself to be the great actress that 
she really was. 

Every critic except the dour Francisque Sarcey, who still 
persisted in ignoring her talent, joined in an enthusiastic chorus 
of praise, and they said much more about her than they did about 
Agar, who was in reality the star of the piece. 

Duquesnel was triumphant ; Chilly was delighted. They had 

Sarah Bernhardt in Le Passant. 

p. 114. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 115 

found another star worthy of the greatness of their theatre. 
They were summoned to play Le Passant at Court, in the mag- 
nificent setting of the Tuileries. The Emperor Louis Napoleon, 
after the performance, descended from his throne and kissed 
Sarah on both cheeks, afterwards presenting her with a diamond 
brooch set with the Imperial initials. 

This brooch was not among the property of the tragedienne 
which was recently sold by auction in Paris, and I believe there 
was a story that, pressed for funds during a trip to London after 
the revolution, she pawned it and never subsequently regained 
possession of it. She was like that all her life. Always the 
desperate need for money, always the large extravagance, the 
royal expenditures that she could not afford ! 

This was the age -of literary giants. Neither politics, nor even 
religion, had half the power to stir the passions of the educated 
masses that a literary war between two editors or two dramatists 
possessed. The two great rivals for public popularity were Victor 
Hugo and Alexandre Dumas the elder, and there was a deal of 
fanaticism in the fervour of their respective partisans. Public 
meetings were held denouncing one or the other. Victor Hugo's 
political martyrdom was of recent memory, and this gentle 
character, this splendid genius, was the prey of attacks which 
were at once unscrupulous and false. Newspapers were started 
by chiefs of the different literary factions, and dozens of duels, 
some of them mortal, resulted from the wanton attacks on the 
reputations of two of the greatest men of the time. 

Sarah's first meeting with Victor Hugo occurred about a 
week after the premiere of Le Passant, in which she took the 
adolescent male role of Zanetto. It suited her to perfection, for 

ii6 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

she had retained her boyish slimness and her general allure of 

After the performance she was presented to Hugo, who had 
been watching the play from the depths of a loge. Public opinion 
was running high in Paris at the moment, and it was considered 
inadvisable that either Victor Hugo or Alexandre Dumas should 
show themselves in public. 

Sarah had ignorantly allowed herself to be carried away by 
the fulminations of the Dumas clique at the Odeon, and actually 
shuddered when she held her hand out to Hugo to be kissed. 

" Ah, mademoiselle," remarked the great author, with a sad 
smile, " I see that my greatest trial is to come in your prejudice 
against me ! " 

Sarah was touched, and could not bring herself to believe that 
this meek man, with the deep marks of suffering about his eyes, 
was really the monster his enemies would have the world believe. 
It was currently rumoured that Hugo was an anarchist, that he 
had deserted his wife, that he had five mistresses at one and the 
same time, and that his life consisted of one immorality after 
another. He was accused of many political crimes also — and 
with as much reason. 

" I am my own judge of men, monsieur," said Sarah. 

Victor Hugo bowed low, muttered a word of adieu and later 
wrote Sarah as follows : 

" Mademoiselle, 

" Yesterday I was presented to you, trembling lest 
you might not accede to my request and play in my Ruy Bias. But 
I was tongue-tied in the presence of your beauty and your charity ; 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 117 

I, who am a man of words, was dumb. I pray you, see Chilly ; 
he knows my wishes. Believe, mademoiselle, in my sincere 

" Victor Hugo." 

Sarah saw Chilly, only to be informed by him that it had 
been decided to put off the revival of Rtty Bias until the following 
season. Instead, when Le Passant was finished, Sarah played as 
star in three plays which definitely established her position as 
one of the greatest actresses of the period. These plays were 
L' Autre, a delicious comedy by Georges Sand, Le Bdtard and 
Theuriet's Jean Marie. 

Before she could play Ruy Bias, the war of 1870 broke out. 

Before we go into the war experiences of Sarah Bernhardt, 
experiences which, moreover, forged her character, into a species of 
flexible steel, two episodes must be mentioned which have been 
published before, but which, in my opinion, have been scurrilously 
misinterpreted. One refers to the fire in her fiat in the rue Auber, 
near the Opera, and the other to the serious illness that followed 
one of Sarah's everlasting practical jokes — which this time took 
the form of trying to make the world believe that she was dead ! 

Sarah had, as before stated, taken a seven-room flat in the 
rue Auber which, with the aid of certain of her family, who were 
now only too willing to resume their relationship with her, she 
had somewhat luxuriously furnished. That in this connection 
she went heavily into debt to various furniture dealers, decorators 
and the like I do not doubt, for such became her invariable 
practice in later life. From the day she jumped into fame, 
she was invariably surrounded by dealers anxious to sell her all 

ii8 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

sorts of things, from jewelry to houses, and from pianos to horses 
and carriages. These men knew that her salary at the Od^on 
was still only i6o francs per month, on which she could certainly 
barely afford an attic. They knew also that the income she 
received from her father's estate had been greatly diminished, 
and was now less than 200 francs monthly. 

With less than 500 francS' — twenty pounds — a month, and 
with the inevitable extra expenses incidental to her career, what 
could Sarah Bernhardt be expected to afford ? Her mother 
could spare her nothing. Her aunt Rosine, in an effort to placate 
the girl for the many slights of childhood, had given her two 
ponies and a smart little carriage, but this, at the same time, cost 
a good deal to keep up. None of her other relatives gave her 
anything. When she appealed to them they would say : " Why 
do you ask us ? You are a famous actress, and famous actresses 
can always have money ! " 

How true that was, Sarah had early found out. I do not 
think it was any particular regard for morality which kept her 
from treading the path so many of her sister actresses were 
obliged to tread, and from procuring herself one or more rich 
protectors ; it was rather that Sarah's whole life now was bound 
up with the stage, and that in her love-affairs she consequently 
never strayed beyond its charmed circle. 

I do not say that Sarah Bernhardt was any less or any more 
" immoral "—and we must try and remember, we readers of a 
d fferent race, that the moral code of 1870 was not that of to-day — 
than were the half-dozen other leading actresses of the time ; but 
I do assert that she never formed a liaison merely for the sake of 
the protection and wealth it could give her. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 119 

When Sarah loved, when this briUiant woman gave herself, 
it was always for her art, and to someone who could assist her in 
the material realisation of her lofty and ambitious dreams. 
Such a thing as forming an alliance merely to rid herself of the 
burden of poverty probably never even entered her mind, which 
was always lifted above the sordid things of hfe. But when, as in 
the case of Pierre Bert on, she was offered the love of a great and a 
noble character, or when, as in the case of Damala, she was swept 
off her feet by a romantic passion, she succumbed willingly enough. 

A list of the men whom Sarah Bernhardt loved and by whom 
she was loved reads like a biographical index of the great French- 
men of the nineteenth century. It includes actors, painters, 
sculptors, architects, cartoonists, poets, authors, and playwrights, 
but not one idle rich man or rich man's son ! 

It is to be doubted whether Bert on, Chiry or Duquesnel helped 
her to furnish the fiat in the rue Auber, and it is therefore some- 
what of a mystery how she managed to assemble the strange 
setting which framed her at this period of her hfe. Her taste was 
all Louis XV., and quaint bowlegged chairs and tables were 
scattered round her in great disorder. 

Sarah's was ever a careless nature and, being extremely im- 
perious as well as chronically penniless, she could not keep a maid. 
She had her aged grandmother hving with her for a period, and 
she had taken her baby from its hired nurse and installed him in a 
nursery at her own home. The child took up the grandmother's 
time, and the household work seldom got done, except when 
Regine, Sarah's wild and hoydenish little sister, could be persuaded 
upon to do her share. 

" I shall never forget my first visit to Sarah's flat," said my 

120 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

husband to me once. " It was on a Saturday afternoon ; we 
were going over a part together, and I had promised to finish the 
recital at Sarah's home. I arrived about three o'clock, and was 
met at the door by a tumble-haired whirlwind in an old chemise 
and skirt, whom I with difficulty recognised as Regine, Sarah's 
little sister. Regine looked as if she had not had a wash for a 
week, and perhaps she hadn't. She had great smudges of grime 
on her face, and her hands were black. 

" She dragged me into the salon, and here I got ano'ther 
shock, for the room was in the most frightful mess you can imagine. 
Empty wine bottles rolled about on the carpet ; the remains of a 
meal stood partly on the mantelshelf and partly on the table, all 
mixed up with sheets of manuscript, which I saw were books of 
the plays which Sarah had appeared in. Photographs in gilt 
frames were here and there, most of them tumbled on their faces, 
and over all was a thick layer of dust. I had to dirty two of my 
handkerchiefs before one of the chars could be trusted not to soil 
my trousers. 

" From another room a baby kept up a wail, and I could hear 
Sarah talking to it, trying to calm it. Sarah's child was then 
nearly five years old, but had the development of a normal child 
of three. 

" When Sarah finally appeared, it was in a long smock covered 
with paint and grease. Her hair was done anyhow, and her wide- 
set eyes sparkled with fun as she viewed my distaste for her 

During all the time Sarah and he remained intimate friends, 
Pierre told me, he could never bring himself to set foot again in 
her home. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 121 

" It spoiled all my conceptions of her," he said. " In the 
theatre she was such a fairylike, delightful creature. One could 
not help loving her. But at home ! " 

One night, after a gay supper following the theatre, Sarah 
returned home to find her flat, in a building situated at the corner 
of the rue Auber and the Boulevard Haussmann, in flames. 
The fire had started in her own apartment, from a candle in- 
cautiously left burning by a maid-of-all-work who occasionally 
came to clean up. The blaze had been discovered shortly before 
midnight, and at one o'clock in the morning, when Sarah arrived, 
it was still confined to three rooms of the flat, but showed symp- 
toms of spreading, in spite of the efforts of the firemen. 

To her horror, Sarah discovered that nobody knew whether 
her baby had been saved or not ! 

There had been nobody but Maurice in the flat when she had 
left it for the theatre that night, with the exception of the char- 
woman, who had long since gone. The grandmother and Regine 
were both absent in the country. Unless one of the firemen 
had seen and rescued the child, therefore, there was every chance 
that it was inside the burning building. 

The flat was of peculiar construction, because of the angle of 
the two streets. One end of it was disconnected from the other 
by a passage-way which had doors at both ends. The fire had 
started on the rue Auber side, and though it had spread upwards 
and downwards, it had not jumped across the court in the rear, 
or worked around the corner to the Boulevard Haussmann side, 
in which was the nursery, 

Sarah took all this in at a glance. Her intense horror and 
dread of fire was not even thought of. Brushing aside those 

122 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

who tried to hold her back, she dashed into the Boulevard Hauss- 
mann entrance, ran up the stairs and into her flat. Groping her 
way through the smoke to the nursery, she found her son safe and 
sound in a deep sleep. She wrapped him in a blanket and came 
down with him into the street. There she collapsed, and was ill 
for two days. 

When she was well enough to hear the news, they told her that 
the whole building had been burned down and that, but for her 
courageous intervention, her child would undoubtedly have been 
burned to death. 

The best proof that Sarah even then possessed a number of 
jealous enemies was the statement openly made in the theatrical 
world that, weighed down with debt, she had caused the fire her- 
self in order to collect the insmrance. 

This story, which has since been still more widely spread, is 
refuted by the following two facts : first, if Sarah had caused the 
fire, she would hardly have left her baby to run the risk of being 
burned to death ; secondly, she had not yet paid the premium on 
the insurance, and it was consequently null and void. Instead of 
her collecting from the insurance company, it was this company, 
La Fonciere, as the proprietor of a flat set on fire through care- 
lessness, which collected from Sarah. 

She was forced to pay the fabulous sum of forty thousand 
francs in damages, which she was enabled to do by the proceeds 
of a benefit performance at the Odeon, at which Adehna Patti, then 
at the height of her fame, sang. 

The receipts of this benefit were more than the necessary 
forty thousand francs, and with the remainder Sarah was able 
to take a flat at No. 4, rue de I'Arcade. It was furnished, how- 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 123 

ever ; and Sarah was still without the means to furnish a flat for 
herself until her late father's man of affairs came and proposed to 
arrange a cash payment to her out of her father's estate providing, 
she would insure her life in his favour for 250,000 francs. This was 
done, and Sarah rented a large flat at the comer of the rue de 
Rome, almost opposite the one which had been burned. This 
she was careful to insure immediately. 

The other episode for which Sarah was much criticised was 
her famous practical joke at the Odeon, after a quarrel with 

A call-boy rushed through the theatre screaming : " Bernhardt 
is dead ! Bernhardt is dead ! " 

With one accord the entire cast rushed off the stage to Sarah's 
dressing-room, where they were met by an extraordinary sight. 

Sarah was reclining, dressed completely in white, on a flat couch 
placed in the middle of the floor. Her hands were crossed over 
her bosom, which appeared to be motionless, and a red stain was 
visible on her chin and neck. At the four corners of the couch 
were placed gigantic candles, like the cierges used in churches. 

Who had placed her like that ? Nobody knew. Her dressing- 
maid was in hysterics, and could not be questioned. Duquesnel 
came in and, taking in the tableau in a glance, burst into tears. 

The performance was stopped and the curtain rung down. 
A doctor and an undertaker were hurriedly sent for, and the 
audience was informed by the grief-stricken Duquesnel that 
" Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt had suddenly passed away." 

Then, and then only, did Sarah sit up, kick over the candles 
with a sweep of her legs, and amaze and scandalise the mourners 
by going into screams of helpless laughter. Duquesnel was white 

124 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

with anger. Running to his office, he wrote and signed a note 
cancelling her contract, and stating that aftei that night her 
services would not be required. 

Sarah threw the note in his face and flung herself out of the 
theatre. For hours she drove about in the Champs Elysees, 
careless of the falling snow. Next day Duquesnel sent her a 
note stating that, on reconsideration, she would be permitted to 
return, but that an apology would be expected. 

A few hours later an emissary from Sarah arrived at the 
theatre. " She will not come back until you ask her to do so 
on your knees ! " he told Duquesnel. The latter, realising that he 
stood in danger of losing his most popular star, went to Sarah's 
home and apologised. Sarah reconsidered her remarks about mak- 
ing him get on his knees, and admitted that she had only meant to 
play a little joke, and had had no idea that it would go as far as 
it had. There, except for satirical comments on the " crazy 
Bernhardt " in the weekly papers, the matter ended. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 125 


Sarah was twenty-six years old when war was declared between 
France and Germany. At three o'clock in the afternoon of July 
19, 1870, I, a child still in short frocks, was present with my 
mother at her apartment in the rue de Rome. 

A rehearsal was in progress for some play, the name of which 
I have forgotten, and Sarah was reading the script in her beautiful, 
expressive voice, running her hand through my hair as she did 
so, when a servant came in and announced that she was wanted 
at the door. 

" What is it ? " Sarah demanded, angry at the interruption. 

" A messenger from the Foreign Ministry," said the servant. 
" He is in a great hurry and has instructions to deliver his message 
to none but yourself, madame, personally." 

Sarah laid down the manuscript and went out of the room. 
Two minutes later she was back, and I can remember to this 
day how white her face was, how brilliant her marvellous eyes. 
She held up her hand, in which was a long envelope, and bade 
everyone be silent. The twenty or twenty-five people present 
were quiet at once and looked at her expectantly. 

" We have declared war ! " she cried, and the echo of that 
golden voice, vibrating with emotion, is with me yet. 

At once the room was in a buzz of excitement. Everybody 

126 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

was speaking at once. Theophile Gautier, the bookworm, who 
was present, made his voice heard through the din. 

" They are mad — mad ! " he exclaimed. Then he went to 

" From whom comes your information, mademoiselle ? " 
he asked. 

" From Captain Lescouve, deputy of the chef du cabinet of 
Monsieur OUivier." 

OUivier was the Premier who had declared war under the 
pressure of the " imbecile emperor." 

Jane Essler, a famous artiste of her time, who had been sitting 
in a chair lazily watching the scene with an expression of calm 
indifference, suddenly jumped to her feet. 

" Come, let us go to the Boulevards ! " she cried. 

" Aux boulevards ! " We were swept away by excitement. 

" No ; let us go to the Odeon ! " shouted Sarah, and this new 
suggestion met with a frenzy of approval. 

" A VOddon ! A V Odeon ! Vive la guerre ! " 

When we came down from the flat the Boulevard Haussmann, 
or the street now known by that name, was alive with people. 
Any passage of vehicles was impossible, so we went on foot through 
the rue Auber as far as the Opera. 

Here there was an enormous crowd. The great Place was 
literally surging with people. On the walls of the Opera itself 
huge posters had been pasted but a few minutes before. I 
remember that some of our party tore them down and stuffed them 
into their pockets as souvenirs. The posters explained the abrupt 
action of the Government, and enjoined the people to remain 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 127 

" Victory is assured," was one phrase that stands out in my 

Carried along by the crowd, we were swept down the Avenue 
de rOpera. Opposite the Theatre Fran^ais was another huge 
crowd. Marie Lloyd — an actress who, by the way, had been 
Sarah's competitor at the Conservatoire, and who had gained the 
first prize which Sarah had coveted — was standing by the statue 
of MoH^re, singing the Marseillaise. Every time she came to 
" Marchons ! Marchons ! " the thousands of people present took 
up the refrain, and again and again the words of the magnificent 
old song were repeated. 

Our party got separated here, and only five of us managed to 
reach the Pont Neuf , which, crossing the Seine, led almost directly 
to the Odeon. I was being partly carried, partly dragged by 
my mother, and was so wildly excited that I felt no fatigue, in 
spite of the considerable distance we had come. 

An empty fiacre passed. The poet, Robert de Montesquiou, 
then a boy of nineteen, but even at that time one of Sarah's firm 
friends, hailed it. The cocher looked at him insolently. 
" A I'Odeon ! " said Robert. 
" It is five francs ! " replied the cocher. 

The distance was not more than seven hundred yards, and 
the fare ordinarily should have been only one franc. De Mon- 
tesquiou was indignant and started a violent protest, but suddenly 
the cocher caught sight of Sarah Bernhardt. 

"It is ' our Sarah ' ? " he exclaimed. " Then I'm a dog ! 
Come, I will take you all, and for nothing ! " 

I remember that Sarah climbed up on the box next to the old 
coachman and gave him two resounding kisses, one on each 

128 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

bronzed cheek. It appeared that the cocher was a regular sub- 
scriber at the Odeon ! 

When we arrived at the theatre we hurried round to the stage- 
door and trooped up into the wings. There we found Chilly, 
Duquesnel and others talking on the stage in loud voices. When 
they saw us, they set up a shout, 

" Voild Bernhardt ! " 

Chilly hurriedly explained that the Government had requested 
that the theatre should be reserved that night for a patriotic 
demonstration, at which some of it's members would be 

" The Emperor will be here also," he went on, " and has speci- 
ally requested that you will open the proceedings by singing the 

The doors opened at six o'clock. By 6.30 the theatre was 
packed. The speeches were to begin an hour later. Sarah was 
supposed to open the meeting, but when the time came she could 
not be found anywhere. 

Distracted officials searched the theatre high and low, shout- 
ing for the missing actress. At last the meeting began without 

At eight o'clock Pierre Berton walked in through the stage- 
entrance, followed by Sarah. Berton looked as black as a thunder- 
cloud. Sarah's eyes were flashing, and red spots of temper were 
on her cheeks. Her friends recognised the signals and the word 
was passed around : " Something has gone wrong between Pierre 
and Sarah . . . they have had a row." 

Sarah went straight to Duquesnel, who began scolding her 
for being late. But she cut him short. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 129 

" I have acted for the last time with that man ! " she declared, 
pointing to Berton. 

Pierre looked on bitterly. (All this I had years later, of 
course, from friends who saw the scene. I had been sent to bed 
after my fatiguing afternoon.) 

" What is the matter ? " asked Duquesnel, puzzled but not 
despairing, for he knew Sarah and her fits of temper, although he 
feared her obstinacy. 

"He is disloyal ! He is a pro-German ! " 

Pierre Berton darted forward with a loud protest. 

" It is a lie ! "he shouted angrily. " She asked me to come on 
the stage and sing the Marseillaise with her, and I said I would 
not, because I disapprove of the war and of the crazy Emperor who 
has declared it, as does every sensible man in all France. But I 
am not disloyal ! I am not pro-German ! " 

Sarah refused to listen. " You hear him ? " she cried. " He 
admits it himself !, I will not appear with him again ! I will not 
act with traitors ! " 

At this remark flung at him with the hiss of a whip-lash by the 
woman he loved and whose career he had made, Berton turned 
away hiding his face in his arm. Then he walked out of the theatre 
and was seen no more that night. 

A famous journalist of the time, De Girardin, was making a 
fiery speech, the gist of which was that within a fortnight our 
troops must be in Berlin. 

" A Berlin ! " howled the crowd, mad with frenzy. And then, 

glorious in its full-toned strength, came the voice of Sarah, singing 

the Marseillaise. 

She was standing at the back of the dress circle, and had not 


130 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

been noticed until she began to sing. She was dressed in a white 
robe with a green girdle — a costume taken from one of her plays 
—and standing there, as those inspiring notes issued from her 
splendid throat, she personified the very spirit of France. 

" Allans, enfants, de la patrie . . ." 

The whole audience was on its feet singing, but ever above that 
volume of sound rose the golden tones of Sarah Bernhardt. Hers 
was not a singing voice, but now it rang out pure and clear as a 

Just as a crystal glass, tapped with the finger-nail, will be 
heard above the din of a great railway station, so was Sarah 
Bernhardt s voice heard above the din and uproar of the Odeon 
that night. 

When she left the theatre, bands of students seized her and 
carried her shoulder high along the Boulevard St. Michel, and 
across the Pont de la Cite to the Place de Notre Dame, where still 
another demonstration was in progress. Again she sang the 
Marseillaise, and then " Mourir pour la Patrie," and other patriotic 

She was exhausted when she reached home, and had caught a 
bad cold, which kept her indoors for several days. During this 
period, however, messengers arrived almost every hour bringing 
her the news. 

Paris, they said, was full of marching troops. The city was 
still in the throes of excitement. The Opera was giving patriotic 
performances every night, at which Marie Sass was singing the 
Marseillaise from the balcony, so that all Paris could join in. 

The Emperor had gone to the Front. The first clash had 
occurred sixty miles south of Mayence. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 131 

The theatres were still open, but there was talk of closing them. 
The actors were organising a volunteer corps, and some had gone 
already to the front, but there was a lack of uniforms. 

MacMahon had sent word from Reichshoffen that all was well ; 
the morale was fine ; they would be in Berlin in a few weeks ! 

The papers were talking about a rumoured big victory. The 
Germans in Paris were not to be interned, but were to be kept to 
do the work of the city. 

Sarah Bernhardt shared the popular belief that victory was in 
sight, that the war was all but over. All the newspapers, every 
lounger on the boulevards said it — so why should she not believe 
it to be true ? 

She went on playing as usual at the Odeon, singing the 
Marseillaise whenever requested to do so, but she adhered to her 
resolution not to play with Pierre Berton ; and Duquesnel, 
deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, had care- 
fully arranged the bill so that they would not be called upon to 
act in the same pieces. 

The two seldom met and never spoke. Berton came rarely 
to the theatre ; he was engaged in secret work, which some 
declared was of a revolutionary nature, but it turned out later that 
he had organised a corps of volunteers amongst the theatrical 
people out of work, and was drilling them on the fortifications ! 
Sarah did not know of this at the time. 

Victor Hugo, of course, had disappeared from Paris, where his 
last visit had been made only under pain of instant arrest, if 
seen ; for he had been banished from the capital for his revolu- 
tionary writings. But among the papers of Hugo, which were 
found at his death, was a letter from Pierre Berton, written in 

132 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

August 1870, a month after the declaration of war, and smuggled 
out of Paris, in which Berton appealed to Hugo to " return and 
save France ! " 

And France was in need of saving ! No longer were the boule- 
vards filled with maddened patriots, excited by wine and shout- 
ing of victory ; instead, these same patriots walked about with 
a grave air, or joined squads of men under training ; and when 
they spoke there was no bravado, but only great determination. 

Wissembourg, with the defeat and death of General Douay, 
had been the first event to startle the Parisian out of his self-satis- 
faction and ignorance. Then, two days later, came the defeat 
which definitely turned the tide against France- — the rout of 
Marshal MacMahon, whose army was literally cut to pieces at 
Freischwiller and Reichshoffen. A human torrent of four hundred 
thousand men poured over the fields of France. The country was 
invaded ; Paris was in danger. 

Paris in danger ! The Parisians were not so much inclined 
to laugh as they had been at first. It was ridiculous, of course — 
it would take a miUion and a half men to besiege Paris success- 
fully — but still, but still, there was Wissembourg, and the 
undeniable evidence of Freischwiller and Reichshoffen ! 

Count de Pahkao, the new head of the Government, was a 
friend of Sarah's ; that is, he had seen and spoken to her once or 
twice, and would stop and bow when he met her. One day he 
sent for her to his office, at the Chamber of Deputies. 

" Mademoiselle," he said, taking her hand, " you can do a 
great work for your country, if you will ! " 

Sarah asked him to explain. The Count then said that the 
Government had noticed how enthusiasm for the war was dying ; 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 133 

and that something Uke panic was imminent in Paris, unless 
optimism and hope could at once be restored to the hearts of the 

" That is your task ! " he finished. 

The Count's plan was for Sarah to organise a committee of 
artistes, authors and newspaper writers of her acquaintance, the 
object of which was to instil into the people of Paris renewed belief 
in the success of the campaign. More patriotic performances 
were to be given ; patriotic posters were to be drawn up and 
posted; and every member individually, whether by word of 
mouth or by articles in the Press, was to affirm his or her belief 
that victory was near. 

Sarah undertook the task with enthusiasm. There is no 
doubt now that her part in the defence of Paris was a glorious one. 
There is no doubt, either, that wily old Count de Palikao, being 
a general and a fine strategist himself, was perfectly well aware 
even then that Paris was doomed. 

Towards the latter part of August the efforts of the volunteer 
committee fell more and more flat. The people seemed to 
have sunk into an apathy out of which they could be aroused, 
only at infrequent intervals, by rumours of victories — ^which 
generally turned out to be false. When Sarah sang the Marseillaise 
now she met with but a feeble response. 

And then came Sedan, the overthrow of the Emperor, and 
the Declaration of the Republic. 

Magically, as it seemed, the whole city, which had been 
shouting its plaudits of Napoleon III. but a few months ago, had 
turned republican. Nobody would admit to having ever been a 
royahst ! " Vive la RdpuUiqne " sounded on all hands. 

134 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

When Sarah Bernhardt arrived at the Odeon that afternoon 
of September 4 — there was no performance and no rehearsal, but 
she could not stay away — it was to find a group of actors surround- 
ing Pierre Berton, who, with a hammer and chisel, was carefully 
chipping away the plaster " N " from the front of the royal 

Sarah stood and watched them for some time and then Berton, 
descending from the ladder, saw her. 

" Mademoiselle," he said, " I was hoping that I should see 
you ! " 

Sarah stood speechless. Taking her by the arm, Pierre led 
her unresistingly aside. 

" I leave with my regiment for the Front to-night ! " he said. 

" Where is your uniform ? " demanded Sarah. 

" You shall see it ! " 

Running up to his dressing-room, Berton came down a few 
minutes later garbed in one of the pitifully nondescript uniforms 
of the National Guard — a grey kepi with a leather peak, a white- 
and-blue coat and red trousers. On his arm were three galons, 
showing his rank to be that of captain. 

Sarah threw her arms about his neck and kissed him before the 
entire company. Before nightfall all theatrical Paris knew that 
Sarah Bernhardt and Pierre Berton were again lovers. 

By now thousands of wounded were arriving in Paris, and 
the temporary hospitals were totally inadequate. Great canvas 
hospitals were erected on the fortifications, but these had to be 
withdrawn into the city as the German advance continued. 
There was an appalling lack of trained nurses, and almost as great 
a lack of doctors and surgeons. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 135 

The theatres were closed, and Sarah disappeared for two weeks. 
When she re-appeared, it was in the uniform of a nurse. She had 
earned her brevet from working in one of the temporary hospitals, 
and even in that short time had learned not a little of the art 
of caring for wounded. 

Her next act was to ask permission from the Comte de 
Keratry to re-open the Odeon as a hospital. This permission was 
readily accorded, but no beds or supplies were forthcoming, 
and it took all her energy and influence to procure these. 

She was alone in Paris. Her son had been sent to Normandy, 
and her mother and aunts had left at the same time, presumably 
for Normandy but in reality for England and Holland, whither 
they took the baby boy. While Sarah imagined her son safely 
in a small village near Havre, he was really in London, and later 
at Rotterdam. 

During the siege of Paris her family left Rotterdam and went 
into Germany, and at the very moment when Sarah was caring 
for the wounded with untiring and devoted energy, her baby boy, 
in charge of her mother and aunts, was living in the country of 
the enemy at Wiesbaden. This she did not discover until after 
the siege was raised. It certainly is the best possible confirmation 
of the nationality of her mother's family. 

136 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


Sarah grew to know at least two members of the revolutionary 
government extremely well. One was Jules Favre, who was given 
the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, and the other Rochefort, the 
notorious editor of La Lanterne, who was taken out of prison by 
the mob on the night the Empire was overthrown. 

Two more opposite characters it would be hard to imagine. 
Favre was a man in middle life^ — calm, rigidly upright, a thinker 
and a statesman. Rochefort was little better than a literary apache, 
and was the idol of the worst quarters of Paris. His speeches 
were calculated to appeal to the baser instincts of the mob ; those 
of Favre were the measured words of a lawyer. Rochefort, if 
he had ever seized the reins of power, might have been another 
Marat ; while Jules Favre, if he could not save France from 
mutilation and humiliation at the hands of Germany, at least aided 
her in retaining her honour and self-respect. 

When Jules Favre, with Paris ringed by enemy steel and guns 
capable of shelling the Op^ra point blank, and its population 
all but starved, said to Bismarck : " Not one foot of soil ! Not one 
stone from our fortresses ! " he was establishing for all time-to- 
come the immortal spirit of RepubUcan France. 

Think ! Paris could have been laid in ashes on the morrow, the 
whole of France ravaged within a month, the last soldier put to 
the sword, all without any possibility of resistance — and there 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 137 

was found a Frenchman who could say defiantly to Bismarck : 
" Not one inch of soil ! Not one stone from our fortresses ! " 

Who shall dim the glory of a nation like that ? 

If I seem to lay unwonted stress on the Franco-Prussian war — 
now a matter, even for the French, of cold, unsentimental his- 
tory — it is because it occurred at perhaps the most impression- 
able moment of Sarah Bernhardt 's life, and has thus a direct 
bearing on our story. 

We have just gone through a war so big that, although the 
Armistice was signed five years ago, it seems only yesterday. 
We have had living evidence ourselves of the influences of war 
upon the generation which fought it. We know how war can 
alter the characters of men, for we have seen it react on our own 
brothers and fathers and sisters. In France, in 1870, the women 
did not go to the war as they did in those terrible years from 1914 
to 1918, but they bore their share — possibly the heaviest share — of 
suffering behind the scenes. In 1870 the army in the field was at 
least on the move, engaged in active operations ; or, if it had been 
compelled to capitulate, it was, at least, not hungry. But at that 
time the women of Paris were very nearly starving. It is hard 
to keep up courage, let alone enthusiasm, on an empty stomach ; 
but this the women of Paris did ! 

As the Germans drew closer and closer to Paris and the outer 
defences began to fall, the flood of wounded that poured into the 
hastily-contrived hospitals increased, until it became a matter of 
serious doubt whether there were sufficient beds to hold them. 
Almost everything was lacking — bedding, medicines, bandages, 
doctors, nurses and food. 

Starting with five wounded soldiers, Sarah's hospital in the 

138 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Odeon was soon taking care of more than a hundred. I remember 
visiting it with my mother during the siege, and the frightfully 
fetid odour that assailed one on entering the door still lingers in 
my nostrils. 

The wounded lay both in the theatre proper and on the stage. 
The beds were placed in great semi-circles, leaving wide aisles 
between, along which the doctors and nurses walked. 

The nurses were nearly all actresses and friends of Sarah 
Bernhardt whom she herself had trained. Their efficiency, 
naturally, left much to be desired, but to the wounded they seemed 
like ministering angels. 

Among the patients were many German prisoners, and during 
the siege these always had the best and choicest food obtainable, 
so that when cured they could be released and sent back to their 
army, to refute the impression of a starving Paris ! 

Sarah told a story of one man, a corporal, who taunted her on 
his arrival with the words : " Oh ho ! I see the stories were 
true ! You have had nothing to eat for so long that you are a 
skeleton ! " 

This uncomplimentary allusion to Sarah's slimness angered 
her excessively, but she went on bandaging the man's leg, which 
was broken. The next day the corporal was astonished at being 
served with chicken soup for his dinner. On the following one 
he was given boiled eggs and some young lamb. 

" Chicken, eggs and lamb in a starving city ! " he exclaimed. 
" Why, you have everything you want ! All these stories of a 
starving Paris, then, are untrue ? " 

He did not know that Sarah's own dinner for days had been 
black bread and beans, and that she had not eaten meat for more 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 139 

than a month ! Whatever dehcacies were brought to the hospital 
were for her wounded. 

Her face grew thinner, but took on an added beauty. She did 
not spare her frail body, but worked from early morning until 
late at night. More than once, when an exceptionally late convoy 
of wounded arrived, she worked all night as well. 

Her character became stronger and nobler ; forged in the fires 
of suffering, the metal rang true. " La Bernhardt " became a 
password of homage among the soldiers. From a c^.Te\ess gamine, 
flattered by the adulation of the multitude, she became a serious 
woman, striving only for one thing : the alleviation of suffer- 
ing among the soldiers who were giving their all for their 

It might be said that the war came at an opportune moment in 
Sarah Bernhardt's career. It demonstrated to her that, despite 
the plaudits of Paris and the flattery of the multitude, she was 
only an ineffectual morsel of the universe. It served to tame 
her conceit, to teach her how insignificant individual success and 
glory are compared to the welfare or suffering of a nation. 

Her character became more subdued, her fits of temper less 
violent and more rare. Her beauty had not suffered, however ; 
rather had it been enhanced. Her eyes, always enigmatic, 
had themselves gained something of the sentiment which ani- 
mated her being. Dressed in the white of a military nurse, with 
the red-and-green cross on either arm and on her hooded cap, 
she was ethereally lovely. * 

She used to go round begging overcoats from her rich acquaint- 
ances. The Odeon was large, coal scarce and heating difficult. 
It became a proverb among the men she knew : " Don't go down 

140 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

to the Odeon with your overcoat on, or you will lose it : 'la Bern- 
hardt ' will take it for her wounded ! " 

Nevertheless, they were generous to her. The Ministry of 
War, established in the Palace of the Tuileries, allowed her the 
same rations as those allowed to the regular hospitals — and, in 
fact, Sarah's personal appeals probably obtained for her something 

At any rate, even in the darkest days of the siege, Sarah Bern- 
hardt's wounded never lacked for anything essential. She set 
every woman and child of her acquaintance to work making 
bandages and folding lint. I myself worked eight hours a day 
so doing. How I loved Sarah Bernhardt in those days ! She 
seemed to me to be glory personified. 

When the siege began there were, according to official statistics, 
220,000 sheep, 40,000 oxen and 12,000 pigs within the city limits. 
This, said the authorities, was ample to provide for the wants of 
Paris for five or six months. And so it would have been — if they 
had not forgotten that a live lamb or ox or pig needs to be fed as 
well as the human beings who are subsequently to eat them ! 
They had brought this vast army of animals to Paris, but they had 
forgotten to bring in sufficient quantities of forage to feed them. 

All the public buildings were used for storing either food or 
munitions. The Opera, which had not then been officially opened, 
was organised as a gigantic warehouse by Charles Garnier, its 
architect, and it was discovered that a river of fresh water flowed 
underneath its cellars. 

Sarah Bernhardt had had her hospital in full working order 
for six weeks before she discovered that all the cellars under- 
neath the Odeon were filled with boxes of cartridges and cases of 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 141 

shells ! Since the Germans could have shelled the Odeon point 
blank from the heights of Bellevue or Montretout, there was some 
excuse for the urgent protest she made in person to Rochefort, 
that these munitions should be removed and her wounded relieved 
from the necessity of lying on a powder mine. Rochefort saw 
that the necessary orders were given. 

As winter dragged on, the siege became a wearisome thing, 
but the courage of the Parisians could not be daunted. Cut off 
from all communication with the outside world, and even from 
their fugitive armies in the South ; starving and nearly at an 
end of their resources, there was nevertheless no real thought of 
surrender. The Germans said Paris could not hold out a month. 
It had already held out two. 

The hardest thing was to keep up the spirits of the people, 
and in this Sarah Bernhardt again took a leading part. The 
police had closed the theatres, and many of these, like the Od^on 
and the Opera, were being used for purposes of national defence. 
But it was felt that some amusements should be provided, so 
Pasdeloup, the famous conductor, was asked to organise a com- 
mittee of singers, musicians and stage-folk to see if some way could 
not be found of getting over the difficulty. Eventually, on 
October 23, Pasdeloup gave his first concert, and shortly after- 
wards Lescouve re-opened the Com^die Fran9aise, 

Sarah Bernhardt organised a scratch theatrical company 
from among those of the actors and actresses of the Od^on who 
were available, rehearsed several stock plays and gave them in the 
open air, for the benefit of the troops of the National Guard, 
who were encamped on the fortifications and in the parks. 

In November Pierre Berton re-appeared — an older, bearded, 

142 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

strange-looking Bert on. He had been in that part of the army 
which was cut off from Paris, and had only reached the capital 
by slipping past the German sentries at the peril of his life. 

" But why did you not stay in the country, where you were 
safe, and where your family is ? " he was asked. It was true — 
his mistress and his children had long ago escaped to Tours. 

" What ? — stay out of Paris, and she here ? " he demanded, 
pointing to Sarah Bernhardt. 

Their intimacy continued, but without the great passion of 
other days. Sarah was tender to him, but made him see that her 
days and nights belonged now to the wounded. Nevertheless, 
Berton complained that others had taken his place in her heart. 

There were four men, in particular, who excited his jealousy. 
These were the Count of Keratry, under-secretary for food sup- 
plies ; Paul de Remusat, one of the prevailing moderate elements 
in the new Government and a great friend of Thiers ; Rochefort, 
who certainly had for Sarah a strange and somewhat uncanny 
attraction, in view of his violence and his dissolute character 
(Sarah says of him : "It was Rochefort who caused the downfall 
of the Empire ") ; and finally Captain O'Connor, a cavalryman, 
who was a much more serious competitor for Sarah's affections 
than the other three. O'Connor will figure in these memoirs 
later on. 

There is considerable doubt as to whether Count de Keratry 
was ever a lover of Sarah Bernhardt 's. He had known her since 
she was a child at Grandchamps, when he used to visit the Convent 
to spend an hour with a niece, who was a pupil there. Later, he had 
been introduced to her family, and by the time he received his 
commission as a lieutenant of cavalry and was sent to command 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 143 

a unit in the campaign of Mexico, had come to be a rather frequent 
visitor in the house in the rue Michodiere. From then on Sarah 
Bernhardt did not see him until he returned, just before the 
Franco- Prussion war, and was given an appointment on the 
Staff. After the Revolution he was made a prefect, with special 
charge over the victualling of the city. 

It was he who saw that Sarah's hospital was so well supplied 
with food' — well supplied, that is, in comparison with other hos- 
pitals of a similarly independent character. During the siege 
Sarah saw him frequently, and he went often to the Od6on. 

He was greatly enamoured of the young actress, but they were 
both too busy to give much time to each other, and certainly 
their humane duties precluded any prolonged love-making. But 
Berton saw in the Count de Keratry's frequent visits to Sarah an 
intrigue that threatened to oust him from his privileged place 
at her side, and he made many heated remonstrances to that 

Paul de Remusat, an author, playwright and educationalist, 
and withal a most supremely modest and unassuming man, was 
one of the real forces behind the revolution, but he was not one of 
the popular figures in it. He seldom spoke in public. 

Sarah had been introduced to him, some months prior to the 
war, by the younger Dumas. She found inordinate pleasure in 
reading his writings, which were of an inspiring beauty. She 
would go to his modest apartment in the rue de Seine and sit on 
the floor at his feet, one arm over his knees, as he read to her his 
latest works. 

It was to Paul de Remusat that Thiers, Favre, Arago, Cremieux, 
Gambetta, Jules Simon, Ferry, Picard, Pages and the rest of the 

144 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

revolutionary committee came in the afternoon with their plan 
of action (that night the Empire fell). It was de Remusat who 
revised this plan, and advised them of the pitfalls that lay- 

He could have had anything in the gift of the new Govern- 
ment. If the times had not decreed that the President must be 
a military man^ — the honour eventually went to the Governor of 
Paris, General Trochu — there is no doubt in my mind that Paul 
de Remusat would have been offered the highest post possible 
in the new order of things. The fact that he had a " de " as prefix 
to his name was another drawback, for it only needed a " de " 
to convince some people of one's royalist leanings. 

Eventually, it was decided to make him Minister of Fine 
Arts, and a committee was sent to him with this idea in view. 
That evening the president of this committee, M, Th^ophile 
Besson, sent for Sarah and said to her, despairingly : " It is no 
use, we cannot move him. You are the only person on earth, 
mademoiselle, who can make him change his mind ! " Sarah 
consented to do her best, and saw de Remusat the next day. 
He asked to be allowed twenty-four hours to think the matter 
over, and he then wrote to Sarah to this effect. 

" Ch^re, ch^re amie : Allow me to remain, my charming 
little friend, in the shadow, where I can see so much clearer than 
I would if smothered in honours ! " 

In another letter a few days afterwards he said : 

" You know well that you have instilled into me an ideal of 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 145 

beauty too partial to be of service to the world, which makes me 
prefer to avoid worldly strife and ambitions." 

Throughout her career Sarah Bernhardt seemed to have 
possessed this God-given faculty of elevating the ideals and 
ennobling the ambitions of men. The influence she exerted on 
her century in matters of art was incalculable. To painters she 
would say : "If you love me, then paint a masterpiece and 
dedicate it to me ! " To poets she would say : " If it is true that 
you love me, you will write a poem about me that will live when 
we both are dead ! " And true it is that numbers of famous 
verses to anonymous beauty had their inception in the ideal 
which Sarah Bernhardt had succeeded in creating. 

Alexandre Dumas fits once told me : " She drives me mad 
when I am with her. She is all temperament and no heart ; but 
when she is gone, how I work ! How I can work ! " 

Georges Clairin threw down his tools in his studio one day, 
interrupting work on a great mural painting he was doing for Sarah 
Bernhardt's house, and went in search of Sarah. When he had 
found her, he remained half an hour in silent contemplation of 
her face. Finally, he jammed his round black velvet artist's cap 
on his head, turned on his heel without a word and, returning to 
his studio, worked savagely on his painting until it was 

" Before," he told me, " it used to be absinthe ; now it is 
Sarah ! " 

Where other actresses prided themselves on their influence 

in politics- — there was a time when affairs of state were habitually 

settled in the salons of the reigning beauties — Sarah, consciously 


146 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

or unconsciously, exerted her influence on men of letters and 

She would not look at a man unless he was doing something 
useful with his life. She despised idlers, and was ever at work 
herself. Not that she was of severe or strictly moral character. 
Far from it. But she used her beauty and her undisputed hold 
on men in the finest way possible : namely by inspiring and 
creating idealism in the minds of the clever men who loved her. 
That may have been the secret of her hold on men. 

It became an axiom in the theatrical world : "If you want an 
introduction to So-and-so (naming a prominent author, playwright^ 
or artist), go and ask Sarah Bernhardt." 

Her influence on Pierre Berton was somewhat of a different 
sort, but this was his and not her fault. Berton had an excessively 
jealous temperament, as I found out for myself later on. 

Victor Hugo had returned in triumph to Paris from his secret 
place of exile, and Pierre Berton was asked to read his poem " Les 
Chatiments," the daring and somewhat terrible masterpiece that 
is credited with having been chiefly responsible for the spread of 
anti-imperialist feeling in France. It was a forbidden work under 
the Empire and had previously only been read in secret in the 

Berton read the poem in the Theatre Lyrique, before a great 
and enthusiastic crowd. Sarah refused to attend. She still 
felt some bitterness against Victor Hugo, for, though she now 
called herself a Republican — it was dangerous to term oneself 
anything else — she had preserved cherished memories of the 
Emperor, the Empress, and the Court in which her acting had 
once produced a sensation. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 147 

She had never forgotten that simple act of generous courtesy, 
when the Emperor Napoleon had descended from his throne to 
kiss her on the cheek, in recognition both of her beauty and her 
art. He might be a prisoner in Germany and they might call 
him an imbecile, but she remembered him as a very gentle friend. 
And the Empress- — who had escaped from Paris in the carriage 
of an American dentist' — it was she who had commanded the 
performance at the Tuileries, and it was she who had personally 
sent a note of thanks to Sarah at the theatre on the following 

Sarah's memories of Royalty were inspiring. And she had 
hardly become accustomed to Republicanism when the existing 
Government was swept away with the Capitulation of Paris, 
and the horrors of the Commune introduced. 

Sarah saw Paris set on fire by the maniacs who said they were 
" saving the nation " ; saw many of her friends in political circles 
shot dead without trial ; feared, like many others, that the Terror 
was come again. And, to add to her trouble, a man whom she 
had been at some pains to make an enemy was appointed chief 
of police ! 

This man was Raoul Rigault, a youngster of thirty. He 
had been one of that student band who established Sarah's fame, 
and had presumed on this fact to send her loving verses, and 
on one occasion a play in bad verse, which she promptly returned 
through Berton as being " unfit for her to handle, let alone read." 
Rigault was furious and swore vengeance. 

When the Commune came, Rigault was appointed Prefect of 
Police, and he visited Sarah at her flat, situated, after another 
move on her part, in the Boulevard Malesherbes. 

148 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" It depends upon you, mademoiselle," he said, " whether 
there is war or peace between us." 

Sarah, angered beyond measure at this insult, sprang up and 
struck him on the face with the palm of her hand. Then she 
ordered him to be shown the door. 

When Berton came later in the day, he wanted to seek out 
Rigault at once and kill him. " The rat ! " he kept declaring, 
" the rat ! " 

He did, in fact, visit the Prefecture with the idea of meeting 
Rigault and " calling him out," but could not find him. Before 
the Communist could wreak his threatened vengeance on Sarah, 
the Commune was over and he was executed. 

Immediately after the signature of peace, Sarah made a long 
and exceedingly hazardous voyage to Hamburg, via Holland, 
where she met her family and saw her baby boy again . She furiously 
abused her mother and her aunt for daring to take her son to 
Germany during that country's war on France, and after their 
return to Paris she refused for some time to have anything to do 
with her Aunt Rosine, whom she regarded as responsible for the 
outrage. She brought her son back with her. 

Among her acquaintances before the war had been a man named 
James O'Connor, a Frenchman of Irish descent. She had had 
little to do with him at this epoch, and had known him only 
as a frequenter of several literary salons which she had been in 
the habit of attending. 

Just before the siege of Paris, Captain O'Connor^ — he had been 
given a commission in the cavalry^ — was brought to her hospital 
at the Odeon, suffering from a bullet wound in the hip. Though 
his recovery was rapid his convalescence was long. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 149 

Sarah tended him with her own hands, and their friendship 
ripened into a warm intimacy. With Berton more and more 
involved in politics, and passing nearly all his evenings at meetings 
in the home of Victor Hugo, Sarah saw a lot of the dashing Cap- 
tain O'Connor, and it was he who, when the Communist rebellion 
broke out, arranged her escape from Paris with her son, and 
installed her in a cottage between St. Germain and Versailles. 

Almost every day they took long gallops together and once, 
when riding through the Park of Versailles, they were shot at by 
a crazy communist who had hidden himself behind a tree. The 
bullet missed its mark and, turning in the saddle. Captain O'Connor 
mortally wounded the man. Then he made as if to ride coolly on. 

" But you are not going to leave him like that ? " asked 
Sarah, sick at heart, pointing to the man who lay dying on the 

" Why not," asked O'Connor, coldly. " He would have 
worried himself precious Httle about you and me if he had suc- 
ceeded in killing us. Every day friends in my regiment are killed in 
this way by some of these madmen in ambush." 

Sarah slipped off her horse and supported the man's head in 
her arms, where a few seconds later he expired. Then, remount- 
ing with a stony face, she gave her hand to O'Connor. 

" What's the matter ? " he asked in cynical amazement. 

" I will not ride any further with an assassin ! " she said, and 
then galloped away. 

This unjust accusation deeply mortified O'Connor, especially 
as Sarah refused to see him the next day when he rode over to 
offer renewed explanations and to exact an apology. 

150 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


The Paris papers were full of it ; the literary and theatrical world 
talked of nothing else : Victor Hugo was to be played again ! 

It was Ruy Bias, naturally, that had been chosen for the open- 
ing of the Hugo season, and it was at the Odeon that the play 
was to be given. Duquesnel and Chilly, after many long con- 
ferences, had come to the conclusion that the decision as to who 
was to be the chief interpreter of the piece should be left to the 
illustrious dramatist himself. Sarah Bernhardt saw Chilly. 

" I must play Ruy Bias ! " she said to him. 

" But, mademoiselle, there are others whose claim is greater 
than yours," said the little manager. " Monsieur Hugo cannot 
and will not be influenced in his choice ! I can tell you nothing 
until I have seen him." 

Sarah Bernhardt went to Pierre Bert on. 

" You are a friend of Victor Hugo's," she said. " Go to 
him and persuade him that I must play Ruy Bias ! " 

She told me years afterwards : "I felt that it was to be the 
supreme effort of my life. Something within me told me that, 
if only I could play this masterpiece, both fame and fortune would 
come at once. I was so sure of this that I determined nothing 
should stand in my way — and no other artiste." 

Berton returned jubilant from his interview with Victor Hugo. 

" The Master says you are toute indiqude ! " he told the 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 151 

enchanted actress ; "he has had you in mind from the 

Rehearsals lasted a month, and Victor Hugo was at each one 
of them, an indomitable figure of middle height, his grey wiry hair 
tumbling over his ears and collar. Generally he sat in the front 
row of the orchestra, but on occasions a chair was placed for him 
in the wings, and from there he would jump up excitedly whenever 
he saw something which disagreed with his theories as to how the 
play should be produced, and would spend valuable minutes trying 
to demonstrate the right way in which a passage should be 

One evening, after rehearsals were over, he had a new idea 
concerning the part of Ruy Bias. Without stopping to think, 
he dispatched this hasty message to Sarah Bernhardt : " Come 
at once and we will talk it over." 

" What ! Does he think I am his valet ? " angrily exclaimed 
Sarah, and wrote as much to him. In an hour or so she received 
the whimsical reply: " No, mademoiselle, it is I who am your 
valet ! — Victor Hugo." 

This, of course, appeased Sarah, and when they met the 
next day they were on cordial terms enough. Two days later 
Victor Hugo brought Sarah a huge bunch of roses, which he 
presented to " My Queen of Spain " (Sarah's part in Ruy Bias was 
that of the Queen). 

" I know where those roses came from ! " declared Sarah, 
accepting them suspiciously. 

" From my garden, mademoiselle ! " said Victor Hugo, with 
a bow. 

" No, they came from the garden of Paul Meurice ! It is 

152 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

impossible that there should be another rose-bush like that in all 
France ! " 

Hugo was extremely disconcerted, the more so as his friend 
Meurice, who was standing by, burst into a hurricane of laughter. 

" I told you she would know them ! I told you ! " he roared. 

Hugo quickly recovered his habitual wit. 

" They are, mademoiselle, the finest roses in all Europe ! " he 
assured Sarah solemnly. " I offered to buy them, and Paul 
would not sell ; then I tried to steal them, and he caught me. 
So I made him give them to me, since with these roses existing it 
was manifestly impossible for me to give you any others." 

Sarah accepted the gift, which was one of a series she received 
from the great author. Then Hugo said : 

" You know, mademoiselle, if we go by the standards of 
your ancestors, the Dutch, we are not really friends ! " 

" "Why not ? " asked Sarah, innocently. 

" Well, the Dutch have a saying that no friendship is 
cemented till the two friends in turn break bread together under 
their own roofs." 

" Then come to dinner with me to-night — and you, too, 
Paul ? " she said, turning to Meurice. 

" But I cannot do that — I have an important engagement I " 
said Victor Hugo. 

Meurice, his most intimate friend, who knew all his engage- 
ments, turned to him in astonishment, and Sarah, seeing his 
astonishment, naturaEy thought that Hugo was merely making 
an excuse so that he would not have to dine with her. She turned 
haughtily away. But Hugo, running after her, laid his hand on 
her arm in supplication. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 153 

" Do not be angry, ma petite Reine," he said, " my engagement 
is with you ! " 

" With me ! " 

" Yes, I have told the cook to prepare a great dinner to-night, 
and you are my guest ! " 

Sarah regarded him suspiciously. Stories of his libertinage 
had been current for years. 

" Whom else have you invited ? " she demanded. 

" Oh," answered Hugo, vaguely waving his hand, " er — 
lots of people^ — Duquesnel, Meurice here, and' — and others." 

Sarah caught the amazed expression on Meurice 's face and, 
excusing herself, sought out Duquesnel. 

" Has Victor Hugo invited you to a grand dinner at his 
house to-night ? " she asked. 

" No— why ? " 

Sarah did not answer, but returned to Hugo and held out 
her hand, smiling. 

" Very well, then, it is understood — I shall come at eight 

Hugo was overjoyed and overwhelmed her with thanks. He 
was completely taken aback, however, when Sarah Bernhardt 
arrived at the time mentioned- — with four friends ! 

The table had been laid for two, as Sarah had expected. But 
Hugo treated the matter as a great joke, entertained them 
dehghtfuUy until midnight with stories of his travels, and went 
about for days afterwards telling his friends what a " smart 
woman that Bernhardt was ! " 

There was never anything but ordinary friendship, and much 
mutual admiration, between Sarah Bernhardt and Victor Hugo, 

154 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

despite all the rumours that were current then and have been 
bruited around since. The principal reason for this was, of course, 
that Sarah was a young woman, while Hugo was nearing the 
end of his long and active career. 

" Victor Hugo ? " she answered me once. " A wonderful 
vieillard (old man)." 

Ruy Bias was produced at the Od^on on January 26, 1872, 
before the most brilliant audience the theatre had ever seen. 
Every seat had been taken days in advance, and hundreds 
crowded into the space behind the back rows and stood up 
throughout the entire performance. 

Sarah Bernhardt triumphed. She often told me that never 
again in her long career did she act so well as she did that night. 
And Paris agreed with her. She was a literal sensation. 

When the play was over, she was forced to respond to more 
than twenty curtain-calls. She tried to make a little speech of 
thanks, but failed, broke down and ran off the stage sobbing, to 
the huge delight and thunderous applause of the audience. 

Blinded by tears, she was making her way to her dressing- 
room when she felt two arms placed about her from behind and 
a gentle voice whisper in her ear : 

" What, my queen ! Are you going without a word to me ? " 

The grave reproach made her lift her head and turn. It was 
Victor Hugo. His eyes, too, were wet. 

" Sarah," he said gravely, " I have but one word to say to 
you, and I say it with all niy soul : merci ! " 

Georges Clairin, who was present, sketched the two as they 
stood there in each other's arms, mingling their tears of happiness. 

The sketch was published some days later, under the title of 


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Letter of Congratulation from V'ictorien Sardou. 

P- 154- 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 155 

" The Goddess and the Genius." From that day dated the 
" divinity " of Sarah Bernhardt. Her art had become supreme, 
a thing to amaze and astound the world. 

Sarah Bernhardt's collaboration with Victor Hugo became 
frequent from that time forward. 

In 1877 Hugo saw her in Hernani and wrote to her : 

" Madame, 

" You have been great and charming ; you have 
touched my heart— mine, the old soldier's — and, at a certain 
moment, while the enchanted and overwhelmed public applauded 
you, I wept. This tear, which you caused to fall, is yours, and 
I throw myself at your feet ! 

" Victor Hugo." 

Accompanying the note was the " tear " — a magnificent, 
pear-shaped diamond, suspended from a gold bracelet. 

Years later, when Sarah was visiting Alfred Sassoon in London, 
she lost the bracelet, and Sassoon, tremendously worried, begged 
to be permitted to replace it. 

Sarah sadly shook her head. 

" Nothing," she said, " can ever replace for me the tear of 
Victor Hugo ! " 

Every critic in Paris, with the sole exception of Francisque 
Sarcey the irrepressible, praised with lavish phrases her per- 
formance as the Queen in Ruy Bias. But Sarcey was brutal. 

" She is a scarecrow with a voice," he wrote. " Certainly, 
the public is entitled to be informed of the reasons MM. Duquesnel, 

156 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Chilly and Hugo had for giving her the role in which she appears. 
She is not yet mature, does not move naturally, and seems to 
rely exclusively on her talent for recital." 

Sarah went into violent hysterics when she read the article. 
She could not imagine why Sarcey was so venomous. Pierre 
Berton knew Sarcey intimately, of course, and tried to intercede 
for her. He met a rebuff. 

" Your protegee has blinded you with her blue eyes," Sarcey 
said. " She is not a great success, and she never will be 
one ! " 

The critic continued his devastating articles, seeming to find 
pleasure in tearing down the reputation of the young actress. 
He had an undisputedly great following, and the management of 
the Odeon itself commenced to look askance at this unwelcome 

Sarah was particularly concerned over the effect Sarcey's 
diatribes would have with the management of the Comedie 
Fran^aise, for (secretly) she longed to be taken back into the 
fold of the theatre which then, as now, was the principal play- 
house of France. 

Sarcey's articles culminated in a vitriolic attack on Sarah's 
interpretation of another role (I think it was that of Mademoiselle 
Aisee). Sarah read the attack during an entr'acte on the third 
night, and became so ill with anger that a doctor had to be sent 
for. She finished her role that night, but her acting was so bad 
that even critics favourable to her commented upon it. 

Girardin, the friend of Victor Hugo and the most famous 
journalist of his time, came to her on the following day, as she 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 157 

lay in bed exhausted from a sleepless night, and said to her 
without preamble : 

" Of course, you realise why Sarcey is attacking you ? " 

Sarah looked at him in red-eyed surprise. 

" No— why should I know ? " she replied. " I have never 
met him ! " 

" Think again ! " urged Girardin. " He says you and he are 
old acquaintances ! " 

Sarah thought, and after a moment she replied : " He is 
mistaken ; I have never met him." 

" He tells his friends that he met you once at the home of 

Madame de S ," responded Girardin, " and that you were 

rude to him there " 

Sarah sat up in bed with a bound. " That— that creature— 
that was Sarcey ? " she cried. " Why— he was ignoble ! He 
was criticising Camille Blanchet, one of my dearest friends, 
saying that he was a cow on the stage, and I — • — " 

" What did you say ? " prompted Girardin. 

" I— I forget ; but I think I said that I would rather be a 
cow on the stage than a pig in a drawing-room ! . . . But— I 
had no idea that he was Sarcey ! " 

" Well," said Girardin conclusively, " that was he ! " 

Sarah was pale with dismay. " What shall I do ?" she asked. 

" There are only two things you can do," answered Girardin. 
" Either you can ignore him, and let him continue his attacks, 
in which case you can say good-bye to your chances of re-entering 
the Comedie— at least for the present ; or you can— make friends 
with the man." 

" But how — make friends ? " 

158 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" I have heard that he is susceptible to a pretty woman ! " 
said Girardin, drily, " and if you meet him, and explain that you 

did not know that it was he, that day at Madame de S 's, 

perhaps " 

Sarah understood. 

On the following Sunday Pierre Berton (it was he who told me 
the story, many years later) saw Sarcey sitting in a stage-box, 
dressed in a dandified full-dress and wearing all his honours. His 
expression was so triumphant, as Sarah came on the stage, that 
Berton " smelt a rat " and decided to watch carefully. 

For some months Sarah's attitude to him had been one of 
increasing coldness — coldness that was the more inexplicable, 
since he had been her friend and protector from the time she 
entered the theatre. He believed now that he held the key to 
the mystery. 

Sure enough, when the curtain fell for the evening, Sarah 
accosted Pierre in the wings, and said to him : 

" Ecoutes ! I don't feel well to-night ; I will go home alone 
with Blanche." Blanche was her maid. 

His protests only made her refusal to allow him to escort her 
the more emphatic and irritable. 

" I tell you I am ill ! I must go straight home to bed ! " 
she asserted. 

Hurrying through his dressing, Pierre ran to the stage entrance, 
where he hid in the door-keeper's box and watched. He had 
waited some time when word was brought to him that Sarah had 
left — by the front door. Hurrying round to the front, Pierre 
was just in time to see her greet Sarcey, who was waiting there, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 159 

with an affectionate kiss, and then mount into the same fiacre 
with him. 

They drove away together, and from that day on Sarcey's 
pen ceased to be dipped in vitriol and became impregnated with 
sugar, in so far as Sarah Bernhardt was concerned. Things 
continued thus until the inevitable break came, when Sarcey 
resumed his role of merciless critic. But by that time Sarah did 
not care. She was back at the Comedie Frangaise, and not aU 
the Sarceys in the world could have detracted from her glory 
nor torn the halo from her brow. 

When Sarah quarrelled with Sarcey, she was gi-eater than he. 

Afterwards she attempted from time to time to renew her 
intimacy with Pierre Berton, but Berton, though remaining 
her friend and admirer, scrupulously kept on that footing and 
declined to return to his old status of doting lover and slave. 

It was his last love affair until, the mother of his five children 
dying, he met and married me. 

i6o Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


Sarah communicated to Francisque Sarcey her desire to return 
to the Comedie Fran9aise. Not that she was unhappy at the 
Od^on ! On the contrary, she had been gloriously happy there 
and owed everything to the staff of that theatre. It was simply 
that in those days, unless one had become the great star of the 
Comedie Frangaise, one was not the great star of France. It was 
the criterion by which a dramatic career succeeded or failed — 
a sort of Royal Academy of the stage. And Sarah's engagement 
at the Comedie as a star would be a double triumph, since it would 
mean that those who disliked her and were embittered against 
her by personal quarrels had been forced to engage her because her 
genius would not let them do otherwise. 

It was not an unheard-of thing for an actress to be taken from 
another theatre to the Comedie and starred ; but it was rare. 
Generally, the stars of the Comedie were societaireS' — actresses who 
had entered the institution as apprentices, and had remained 
there throughout their careers. It is so even now. For an 
actress to be invited from another theatre meant a signal honour 
and a public acknowledgment that she was pre-eminent in her 


It is likely that Sarcey did not have to use much persuasion 
with the directors of the Comedie. His influence was unlimited 

Sarah a constant victim to writ-servers. 
Exhibited at the Exposition des Incoherents, 


Sarah and Sarcey. 
Bv Caran d'Ache, 1880. 

The ^Manifold Vocations of Sarah. 

By Moloch, in La Silhouette, 


Sarah and Damala in Les 

Meres Ennemies, by Grimm, 


Sarah Bernhardt in Caricature. 

p. 160, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her i6i 

there, and the mere fact that the great Sarcey had changed 
his opinion of Sarah' — even though a majority of Paris suspected 
the cause — was enough to stamp her with the precious hall-mark 
of genius. 

But Sarah had enemies enough in the House of Moli^re. 
Maubant the tragedian, for one, had sworn that she should enter 
the theatre only over his dead body ! Madame Nathalie was 
still there, together with her group of powerful friends. She 
had not forgotten the time that Sarah had slapped her face, 
nor would she ever forget it. The mere rumour that Sarah was 
to be invited back to the Com^die would send this group into 
transports of rage. 

After Le Passant, Sarah's salary at the Odeon had been in- 
creased to four hundred francs a month, and following her triumph 
in Ruy Bias she was given a further increase of two hundred 
francs, making six hundred in all. This salary, about six pounds 
a week, was considered excellent in those dayS' — and it was not 
bad, even considering the somewhat depreciated buying-power 
of money in Paris due to the war and the Commune. 

But it was not nearly sufficient for Sarah, who lived in lavish 
style in her new apartment in the Boulevard Malesherbes. There 
she had a suite of nine large rooms, all of them exquisitely fur- 
nished, and she maintained a staff of five servants. She had two 
coaches^ — one for ordinary driving to and from the theatre, and 
the other for special occasions, such as Sunday mornings in 
the Champs Elys^es and the Bois, when all fashionable Paris 
turned out in their smartest equipages to stare and be stared 

She was constantly buying things and as constantly signing 


1 62 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

I.O.U.'s and traites (a species of acknowledgment of debt which 
authorises its collection by a bank) . She never knew to a certainty 
how much money she owed, and was constantly surrounded by 
a horde of creditors eager to collect. 

Among these creditors was a Jew, one Fran9ois Cohen, a 
dealer in furniture and one of the most astute business men in 
Paris. He was not only a good business man ; he was an extra- 
ordinary judge of dramatic talent, and in fact edited a column 
of dramatic comment for Le Monde et La Ville, a monthly 
sheet distinguished for its accurate information. He did this, 
of course, merely as a recreation. 

Sarah's attention was first attracted to him by the number 
of Le Monde et La Ville issued after her first performance in 
Francois Coppee's Le Passant — the charity performance, I mean, 
before the play became a definite part of the Odeon repertoire. 
In his column Cohen had written : 

" It is worth while to report the discovery, on Sunday night, of 
a new celestial body in the firmament of drama. We have found 
a poet, you will say ; yes, but that is the least of it. Coppee 
is a master^ — a master in swaddling clothes — but even he, with his 
intricate verse, of which one understands only the beauty without 
comprehending the sense, would have been lost but for the out- 
standing magnificence of the most promising young actress on 
the stage in Paris. I am speaking of MUe. Bernhardt. 

" Who is she ? I have asked, and nobody seems to know. 
There are stories of royal favour, of noble blood, of powerful 
protection ; let us trust that they are untrue, for Mile. Bernhardt 
must have the incentive to work which only the necessity to live 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 163 

can give her. But that she is something new in the heavens is, 
as I have said, undoubted. 

" The question only remains : Will she be a comet, like so 
many others, flashing for but a brief instant in our bewildered 
and astonished consciousness, or will she develop into a new 
astronomical marvel, a brilHant seventh of the Odeon Constella- 
tion, destined to shine with increasing brilliance, to dazzle us 
with her art and to warm us with her voice, until she becomes 
a fixed sun in the celestial firmament of France ? 

" No one who saw her performance last night can doubt that 
the genius is there ; it remains but to know whether she also 
possesses the great gift of ambition and the necessary deter- 
mination to work which alone can make her success a per- 
manent thing. It is, perhaps, fortunate that she is not too 
beautiful. ..." 

It was the most keenly analytical criticism that had appeared 
— I have quoted only a small part of the article — and, despite 
Sarah's distaste for the last sentence, she realised that the author 
of the commentary knew what he was talking about. This was 
shown by his skilful delineation of the play. She carried the 
paper to Berton and asked : 

" Who is ' F. C who signs this article ? " 

" I don't know," said Berton, " and nobody else does either. 
It seems to be a sort of secret. But he is clever." 

Sarah sent a note to the paper asking the editor to com- 
municate with " F. C." and ask him if he would call upon Sarah 
Bernhardt, who wished to thank him. She named a day and 
a time. 

164 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

At the appointed hour a call-boy came to her dressing-room 
with a card, on which was printed : " Frangois Cohen." 

Ah ! So this was " F, C." Sarah's eyes brightened in anticipa- 
tion. She knew of a question that she meant to ask him. 

The door opened and a little, round-shouldered man, with a 
hooked nose and beady, sparkling eyes came in. He was dressed 
in a suit of clothes two sizes too big for him ; one of his shoes was 
unlaced and he kept his hat on. 

Without preamble he advanced into the room with a short, 
mincing gait, trotted over to where Sarah sat regarding him with 
astonishment and suspicion, seized her hand, which he pecked 
at with his lips, and then thrust a large book on the table in front 
of her and began to turn over the pages. 

" I understand that you are very busy, mademoiselle," 
he said, with a strong accent, " and so I have brought the catalogue 
that is likely to interest you, and I think we can agree very quickly. 
The prices are marked, but perhaps " 

Finally Sarah Bernhardt found her voice. 

" Who," she demanded, struggling with mingled surprise 
and indignation, " are you ? " 

The little Jew looked up, astonished. 

" Why," he answered, " I am Fran9ois Cohen ! Did not they 
give you my card ? I was told to come up^ " 

" B — but, I thought that you had come from a paper^ —  — " 

Cohen's little eyes sparkled. " I am Fran9ois Cohen, and I 
sell very fine furniture," he said. 

" I do not want to buy furniture ! " exclaimed Sarah testily. 
" I wanted to see a man who signs himself ' F. C in L^ Monde et 
La Ville, and I thought, when I saw your card " 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 165 

" You are sure you do not want to buy any furniture ? " 

" Of course I am sure ! " 

" Then, mademoiselle, we may talk of the other matter. 
I— I am also ' F. C " 

Sarah regarded him incredulously. 

" You are ' F. C who writes the theatrical article in Le 
Monde et La Ville P " she demanded, with frank disbelief. " I don't 
believe it ! You are trying to lie to me, so that I will buy 
your furniture." 

" I will prove it to you, if you like." 

" How ? " 

" Well, you know what I said in my article- — that you would 
one day be a great star if only you worked hard and had 
ambition ? " 

" Yes." 

" Have you ambition ? " he asked her. 

" Yes," returned the actress, wonderingly. " I have — 

" Will you give me your promise to study and work hard ? " 
the extraordinary little man then asked her. 

" I mean to do that — yes ! " replied Sarah. 

" Then I will prove my faith in you by making this agreement : 
If you will buy from me the furniture that you need in furnishing 
your new flat " (her old one had been burned out a few nights 
before), " I will give you credit for six years ! " 

Sarah could not believe her ears. 

" Credit for six years ! " she cried. " But that is a long 
time ! " 

" Six years ! " repeated the Jew impassively. 

i66 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" But why six ? Why not ten^ — or two ? " 

" Because I believe that you will be famous within six years 
and will be well able to pay me," he answered. 

The deal was struck. Six years later Sarah Bernhardt's name 
was the most celebrated in all Paris, and Cohen came to collect 
his bill- — eleven thousand francs, including interest. It took 
all Sarah's spare cash, and all she could borrow on her salary, 
but she paid him. It was the only debt I ever knew her to be 
scrupulous about. 

Sarah was in bed one morning when Madame Guerard, who 
had become a sort of secretary to her, entered the bedroom with 
a letter in her hand and a mysterious look on her face. Closing 
the door behind her, she went silently to the bed, and stood looking 
at Sarah. 

Then she handed her the letter. It was in a large, square 
envelope, and on the back of it was printed " Comedie 

Sarah uttered a cry of exultation. It was her summons ! 
She felt morally certain of it before the envelope was opened. 

" Open it, Madame Guerard ! " she cried, " and tell me what 
it says ! " 

The old lady carefully broke the seal, withdrew the letter, 
adjusted her spectacles and commenced to read : 

" Monsieur Perrin, administrator of the Comedie Fran9aise, 
requests from Mile. Sarah Bernhardt the honour of an appoint- 
ment as soon as possible." 

Sarah jumped out of bed, seized the letter, and did a dance of 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 167 

triumph on the floor. " Tell him" she said breathlessly, " that 
I will go to see him to-day, at once' — — " 

" It is Monday, and the offices are closed," reminded Madame 

" That is so. I had forgotten. Well, tell him I will go to see 
him to-morrow afternoon." 

The next day she saw Perrin, who took her hands in his and 
said to her earnestly : " My child, I know that you are very much 
attached to the Odeon, but your future belongs to France — and 
this is the National Theatre of France." 

" When Perrin said that," Sarah related to me long afterwards, 
" I felt that my great moment had come. I was vindicated ! 
My art had triumphed ! I had compelled the Comedie Frangaise, 
my enemies, to admit that I was the greatest artiste in 
Paris ! " 

She dictated harsh terms to Perrin, who promised to consider 
them. In two days came his reply : the administration had met 
and considered her case, and had instructed him to say that they 
would pay her an annual traitement of 12,000 francs. 

With this letter in her hand she sought Duquesnel. That 
admirable man had long suspected that Sarah was eager to 
return to the Comedie. 

But he only looked at her reproachfully and said : " Our little 
Sarah wishes to leave us ? After all we have done for her ? 
She does not love us any more ! " 

Sarah burst into a flood of tears, and flung herself into the 
director's arms. 

" It is not true ! I do not want to leave you ! I love you 
all ! I would like to stay. But you see " 

i68 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

She could not explain that she felt her glory incomplete as 
long as she remained only the star of the Odeon. 

" Well ? " prompted Duquesnel. " Let me say it for you — 
it is the money ! " 

Sarah gave a sigh of relief. She had been afraid he would 
divine her real reason. And, anyway, the money played no small 
part in her determination to return to the Comedie. 

" Yes," she admitted, " of course, it is the money. Perrin 
offers me twelve thousand francs a year. Give me fifteen thousand 
and I will remain here." 

The largest salary hitherto paid by the Odeon to an artist 
was the 10,000 francs a year which had been earned by Mounet- 
Sulley before he, too, was taken by the Comedie Fran9aise. 
Sarah and Duquesnel both knew that it was impossible that she 
should be given fifteen. 

" I will talk to Chilly," said he at last, " but I do not think he 
will agree." 

The next day Chilly sent for her. His manner was abrupt, 
rude. But Sarah understood the man by this time. She knew 
that his brusque manner was only his way of concealing 

" So," he said, " you want to leave us — idiot ! " 

" I do not want to leave," answered Sarah, " but I am offered 
more money ! " 

" Your place is here ! There is not a theatre in Paris which 
can offer you more than the Odeon, except the Comedie, and 
of course you will never' —  — " 

Sarah tendered him the envelope she had received from 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 169 

Perrin, and Chilly started as he saw the inscription on the 

" Ah ! " he exclaimed. 

Sarah waited. 

" What do they offer ? " 

" Twelve thousand." 

" I will give you twelve — — " 

" No, you must give me fifteen." 

Chilly rose from his chair, red with anger. " So, mademois- 
elle, that is the way you treat your friends ! Fifteen thousand 
francs ! It is ridiculous^ — absurd. ... Do you then take me for 
an imbecile ? " 

His attitude enraged Sarah. 

" Yes," she snapped, " I take you for just that — an 
imbecile ! " 

And she left the room, banging the door, leaving Chilly wearily 
staring after her. 

Half an hour later she was back in his office. Advancing, she 
held out her arms to Chilly and embraced him, 

" So," he exclaimed joyfully. " You will stay ? " 

" No," returned Sarah. " I am going ! But I want tO' — to 
thank you. ..." And she burst into tears again. 

Sarah signed her contract with the Comedie Frangaise the 
same day. A week later Victor Hugo gave a banquet to celebrate 
the looth performance of Ruy Bias. 

It was in many ways a notable dinner. Not only did it 
commemorate the triumph of his greatest play, but it was Sarah's 
farewell to the company at the Odeon, her adieu to the stage on 
which she had achieved renown. 

170 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

And it was the last supper of Chilly, the director who had 
helped to mould her fame. He died of heart failure at the table, 
at the very moment when he was about to reply to the toast of 
his health. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 171 


The death of Chilly momentarily saddened Sarah Bernhardt, 
but did not check her rapid advance to fame. That event indeed 
once again brought her abruptly face to face with the elemental 
facts of life ; and, like other experiences of the same nature, 
had a profound effect on her character, while it served as 
welding material for the art she displayed in her theatrical 

Her nature was that of the true artist' — highly sensitive ; once 
an impression was made on her it remained for ever as a com- 
ponent part of the edifice of her talent. Just as a portrait painter, 
away from his oils, will observe and remember in its minutest 
detail some tantalising cast of expression in the face of his model 
and will later reproduce it on canvas, so Sarah's brain was 
constantly receiving impressions which she later translated into 
life, through the medium of the characters she portrayed. 

Sarah often told me of the fatal dinner during the course of 
which the little director Chilly died. 

" I shall never forget a detail of that night, as long as I live," 
she said. " It was so incredibly a masterpiece of the great 
dramatist, Fate." (She frequently spoke in a figurative sense.) 
" It all happened as though written, rehearsed and stage-managed 
for weeks, with every person there an actor word-perfect. 

" We were received at the entrance to the restaurant by Victor 
Hugo himself. It was summer and extremely hot. Duquesnel, 

172 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Chilly, Berton and I arrived all together in my carriage. Through- 
out the journey from my flat, Berton and Chilly had been heaping 
reproaches on me for my decision to leave the Odeon. 

" Chilly was hurt and puzzled. He could not understand 
why a difference of only three thousand francs a year should make 
me leave the theatre which had been the birthplace of my 
celebrity. Berton was loudly querulous ; he insisted on reminding 
me that it was he who had procured me my first engagement at the 
Odeon, and once came right out with the statement that it was 
Sarcey who was at the back of my desire to leave the theatre. 

" This latter statement, which was quite untrue and which 
Berton must have known to have been untrue, angered me to 
such an extent that I stopped the carriage. 

" ' Monsieur,' I said to Berton, ' either you will retract what you 
have just said, or you will get out of this carriage ! ' 

" ' Well, then, why are you leaving us ? ' demanded Berton 
sulkily. The man was incorrigible. I laughed at him. 

" ' If you insist upon knowing why I am leaving the Od^on, 
Pierre,' I answered him, ' it is because I can no longer remain at 
the same theatre with you ! ' 

" Chilly looked at me strangely, but said nothing. I know 
he was aware^ — the whole theatre was in possession of the main 
facts by this time— that I had broken with Berton, and I think 
he may have imagined there was some truth in the explanation 
I had jestingly given. At any rate, he ceased his complaints 
and said afterwards not a single word of protest at my leaving. 

" I remember that, during the drive to the restaurant, Chilly 
frequently complained of the heat. He had been working hard 
all day, and we had, in fact, called at the theatre, and brought him 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 173 

directly from it in his working-clothes. He was the most inde- 
fatigable worker I have ever met. 

" ' Ah,' said Victor Hugo, on perceiving me, ' here is Her 
Majesty the Queen ! ' He seized my hand, kissed it twice and 
then, drawing me to him, kissed me on both cheeks. It was a 
characteristic salutation. 

" ' I see that she is no longer the Queen, but has become again 
the artiste of Victor Hugo ! ' " exclaimed Duquesnel. 

" Hugo shook his head violently. ' No,' he cried, ' she is 
more than an artiste, more than a Queen^ — she is a woman ! ' 

" We dined at a long table — more than sixty persons, includ- 
ing practically the whole Ruy Bias company. My chair had been 
placed at one end, but I had no sooner sat down than Hugo 
began looking round and running his hand through his hair in 
the nervous fashion I remember so well. "Wben he saw me, he 
cried out : ' Ah, no ! My dinner will be spoiled ! ' Then he 
added, speaking to Essler who was seated immediately opposite 
him : * Jane, you are older than Sarah ; take the seat of honour 
at the end, and tell her Majesty to come here ! ' 

" Jane did as he requested, but with excusably bad grace. 
Before I had come to the Odeon, she had been its bright, particular 

" The order was given to open all the doors and windows, and 
everyone was provided with fans, but the heat was stifling. No- 
body could eat anything. Duquesnel sat next to me on one 
side, and Theophile Gautier, the poet, on the other. Immediately 
opposite to me was Victor Hugo. On his right was Chilly, and 
on his left Madame Lambquin, who played the part of the 
Camerera Major, and who was the doyenne of the Odeon. 

174 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" I remember that I did not touch the first course at all^it 
was a species of hors-d' ceuvres made from beetroot, a vegetable 
which I then detested. Paul de St. Victor, who sat next to 
Madame Lambquin, apparently adored the vegetable and ate so 
much that the juice ran down his cheeks. For a poet, he was the 
fattest and most repulsive being I have ever known. I hated 
him, and he knew it. 

" I managed to eat a little of the fish, which came next, but 
the horrible manners of St. Victor had completely spoiled my 
appetite. As I very seldom ate meat — I attribute my long hfe 
partly to the fact that I have rarely departed from vegetarianism — 
I got very little to eat that night. 

" When the vegetable course was over, Duquesnel rose to 
his feet and, in a few words, proposed our host, Victor Hugo's, 
health. Hugo then replied in a long address, full of sentiment and 
expression, in which he was good enough to refer to me as 
the ' animatrice ' of the play. 

" ' I,' he declared, ' have only written the piece, but she has 
lived it ! ' Then, turning to me and bowing, he said : Mademois- 
elle, you have a voice of gold ! ' 

" When I rose to my feet and started to reply, Paul de St. 
Victor, who had been awaiting an opportunity to vent his spite, 
brought down his glass so violently that it was broken. I handed 
him mine. 

" ' Use this, monsieur,' I said to him. ' You would not look 
natural without a glass in your hand.' 

" The table laughed, and I was given courage to continue. I 
was in the middle of a little eulogy of my co-workers in the piece, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 175 

when my gaze suddenly fell on the face of Chilly, and I stopped 

" The little director's face was ashen, where a moment before 
it had been red and perspiring. His eyes were wide open and 
staring at me, with a glassy look about them that frightened me. 

" ' Chilly ! Mo7t ami ! ' I cried. 

" His eyes met mine without a shade of expression, though his 
mouth opened and shut, as if he was trying to speak. 

" ' ChiUy ! ' I cried, terror-stricken, and everyone at the table 
rose to their feet. I rushed to his side and, kneeling, put my arms 
about him as he sat in his chair. ' Tell me, what is the matter ? ' 
I asked. 

" ' Somebody is holding me ! ' he muttered, in a thick voice. 
' I cannot move ! ' 

" ' It is the heat ; he has had a little stroke ; it is nothing ! ' 
said Victor Hugo, with authority. 

" Chilly was carried into one of the small dining-rooms, 
and laid on a couch. Victor Hugo and Duquesnel stood at 
the door, as guards, to keep the curious away. To everyone 
they declared that it was nothing and that Chilly would be all 
right in a few moments. 

" I returned to the table and sat down. In my heart I 
realised that Chilly would not be all right' — that it was the end. 
And I thought of all the times that this little man had befriended 
me, reviewed in my mind the occasions — yes, even on that 
very day^ — when I had been thoughtless and even brutal with 
him. Ah, I was sorry ! If I could but have obtained his 
forgiveness. ... 

" No sooner had this idea come into my head than I rushed 

176 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

away to put it into execution. I would fall on my knees beside 
my friend and teacher, and beg his forgiveness. . . . 

" At the door I was met by Victor Hugo. One look at his 
face and I knew that I was too late. 

" Raising his voice, Hugo announced to the room : ' Monsieur 
Chilly has been taken to his home ; we hope that he will recover 
to-morrow.' He could not tell them the truth, as they sat there 
at his table. Then, to me, in reply to my mute and terrified 
inquiry, he said, in a low voice : ' He has gone. ... A beautiful 
death ! ' 

" Those who did not know the truth remained to finish dinner. 
Duquesnel took me home. I cried all night. And the next day 
a lawyer came to me and told me that almost the last act of 
Chilly— he had threatened it, but I had never believed that he 
would keep his word— had been to begin an action against me 
for breach of contract. I lost the case, and was sentenced to 
pay ten thousand francs damages, but this was paid by the 
Comedie, as provided in my contract." 

The death of Chilly was not the strangest event of that fatal 
dinner. Madame Lambquin became suddenly ill. She told 
everyone that a fortune-teller, only a few days previously, had 
prophesied she would die within a week of the death of " a little 
dark man." Chilly was small and dark^and precisely seven days 
after his death, Madame Lambquin died. 

Victor Hugo, when he heard of this latest tragedy, exclaimed : 

" Without a doubt Death himself was at my dinner. I think 
he aimed at me, but he must be short-sighted, for one of his 
arrows went to my right, and slew Chilly, and the other swerved 
to my left, and killed Lambquin ! " 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 177 

A few days later Sarah received a note from Sarcey, asking 
her to be present at a conference in the directors' office at the 
Comedie, to decide which was to be her first role. Sarah wished 
to play the part of Britanicus as her dehut, and naturally, as 
Sarcey 's note spoke of a " conference," she anticipated that her 
wishes were to be deferred to. 

On the way to the theatre she confided her desire to play 
Britanicus to Sarcey, who said nothing. Judge of Sarah's surprise, 
therefore, when Sarcey opened the "conference" by announc- 
ing abruptly : " Mile. Bernhardt believes that she would prefer 
to make her dehut in Mademoiselle de Belle Isle." 

Sarah was so astounded she could scarcely speak, and before 
she could make an adequate protest she was outside the door of 
Perrin's office, with the play a chose jugee. Then she turned upon 
Sarcey furiously. 

" Why did you do that ? " she asked. 

" I wish you to play this part ! You can have your 
Britanicus afterwards, if you like ! " 

Sarcey spoke carelessly, and his manner was an indication of 
the influence he exerted at the Comedie. Sarah was wise enough 
not to dispute his decision, but she was nevertheless angry 
with him, and refused to see or write to him for several 

Her anger was increased when she found that her role in Madem- 
oiselle de Belle Isle was not in reality the most prominent part in 
the play. Two other famous actresses, public favourites of the 
Comedie, were in the cast — Sophie Croizette and Madeleine 
Brohan. The latter, by her own request, retired from the play 

during rehearsals. Sophie Croizette was Sarah's great rival for 


178 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

popular favour. She had held the first female role at the Frangais 
for several years — since before the war, in fact. 

Sarah decided that she would play the name part, Mademoiselle 
de Belle Isle, so extravagantly well that none of the audience 
would spare a second thought for Croizette, in her part of the 
Marquise de Prie, who in the play is kissed in the dark by the 
Due de Richelieu, in mistake for the lady from Belle Isle. At 
rehearsals Sarah was magnificent. Croizette, who was an intimate 
friend, despite their rivalry, used to come to her in despair. 

" You are splendid' — but you give no opportunity to the 
rest of us ! " 

The play was produced on November 6, 1872, and the first 
act was a triumph for Sarah There was indeed every indication 
that new glory was about to descend on the immortal queen of 
Ruy Bias when, at the beginning of the second act, she caught 
sight of her mother in a stage-box. 

Julie was leaning back in a chair, her eyes closed, and beads 
of perspiration on her forehead. Sarah knew immediately what 
had happened. Her mother suffered from a weak heart, and several 
times before had had a similar seizure. 

The tragic death of Chilly, which she had all but witnessed, 
was fresh in Sarah's mind, and doctors had told her years before 
that she must expect her mother's disease to end fatally one day. 
She watched the stage-box in agonised fashion, while the audience 
became bewildered at the extraordinary change which had come 
over their star. 

Sarah stumbled through the rest of the play, and immediately 
afterwards, learning that Julie had been carried there from the 
theatre, hurried to her mother's home. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 179 

Meanwhile the danger had passed. When Sarah arrived, she 
found her mother pale, but otherwise recovered, and taking 

Returning to her own flat she found a note from Sarcey : 

" It was ludicrous. Shall I ever understand you ? The first 
act was wonderful ; in the others you spoilt the play ! " 

Furious that he should not have seen the reason for her 
agitation, Sarah refused to make any excuse for herself or to give 
him the slightest explanation. So, when his criticism of the play 
appeared in Le Temps, five days later, he was evidently in two 
minds as to whether to praise or condemn. His hesitation shows 
itself in several passages. 

At the beginning of his critique he said : 

" It must be admitted that, independently of her personal 
merit, there have formed around the person of Sarah Bernhardt 
a number of true or false legends, which excite the curiosity of 
the public. But it was a disappointment when she appeared. 
Her costume exaggerated her slenderness, and her face had been 
whitened too much with powder. The impression was not 

This was because he had urged her to modify her costume 
and she had not done so. Further on, Sarcey wrote that she 
" trembled convulsively " during the play, and while admitting 
that she had " marvellous grace," still insisted that she " was lost 
in the strong passages." But he added, " were she to possess a 

i8o Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

vibrant dramatic quality equal to her enchanting voice, she would 
be a perfect actress, an actress unequalled at the present day." 
This, when his previous articles are remembered, was quite an 
admission, and he ended his article with a real eulogy : 

" At the close of the play the artiste apparently found herself, 
and for a brief space we could recognise in her Our Sarah — the 
Sarah of twenty successes." 

By the way, he had not admitted one of those successes 
himself ! 

It was only after the publication of his critique- — which in the 
circumstances Sarah recognised as just- — that he discovered the 
real reason for her poor performance. He then had the grace 
not only to apologise personally, but to publish an account of what 
had happened in a later issue of Le Temps. 

His apology, however, could not alter the fact that the public 
thought her explanation only an artiste's excuse, and the honours 
of the play went definitely to Sophie Croizette, who was really 
one of the most accomplished artistes who have ever adorned the 
French stage. 

For the next ten years there was a terrific rivalry between 
these two — not only in Paris, but abroad. 

If Sarah created a role one week, Sophie created one the next, 
and critics were divided in their opinion as to which was the 
greater actress. If Sarah went on tour, so did Sophie ; and the 
duel between these two close friends kept Paris perpetually 

It was generally agreed, finally, that Sarah was the greater 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her i8i 

actress, but that she was also the more eccentric, the more 
apt to lose her head ; nor, it was said, did she have the innate 
technique that distinguished Croizette's performances. 

Croizette had few enemies — and perhaps that is why she has 
been forgotten, or nearly so, by the public. Sarah, on the con- 
trary, used to say that she counted a day lost wherein she had not 
made " either a true enemy or a supposedly true friend." 

i82 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


Episode now succeeded episode in the life of the young actress — 
for she was still not more than twenty-eight years old. 

She quarrelled with Francisque Sarcey and fell in love with 
an old friend of the Odeon — Mounet-SuUy, the handsomest actor 
on the French stage, who, like Sarah, had been taken from the 
Odeon by the management of the Theatre Fran9ais. 

She acquired her famous coffin, which never afterwards left 
her, and in which her remains now lie at P^re Lachaise. 

She was sued right and left for debt. 

Her sister Regine died. 

Her own health became precarious, and a physical examina- 
tion showed a spot on her right lung. 

Most of these events occurred within the first three years of 
her re-engagement at the Comedie Fran9aise. Her eight years 
at this theatre were among the most eventful of her life. 

During them she became the darling of one part of Paris, and 
the scorn of another part. During them she was credited with 
having had " affairs " with no less than nine prominent men. 
During them her fame spread throughout the world. 

Her quarrel with Sarcey dated from the moment she felt 
herself strong enough to stand without his aid. I shall never 
believe that her Uaison with Sarcey was actuated by anything 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 183 

except the motives of professional expediency. In fact, she 
practically admitted this to me. 

" Sarcey," she said, " was one of those highly-gifted but 
intolerant men whose one aim in life is to mould the opinions of 
their friends and intimates to suit themselves. He was a brilliant 
writer, a still more brilliant conversationalist, and there is no doubt 
that, as a theatrical critic, he was head and shoulders above any 
other then living in France. 

" His judgment was deferred to by most of the theatrical 
managers, and especially by those at the Comedie, whose political 
views and connections were the same as those of Sarcey himself. 
It was said that Sarcey could procure the admission or the resigna- 
tion of anybody at the Comedie. He was extremely opinionated 
and very hard to change once he had made up his mind. He 
hardly ever forgot a slight, and never an insult. 

" He was unquestionabl}^ an enemy of mine from the beginning, 
and I made him my friend when it became necessary to do so, 
but not because I was in any doubt as to his character. I found that, 
like many geniuses, he was insupportable in private life. He would 
rave and tear his hair twice or three times a day over matters 
without the slightest consequence. He usurped the privilege of 
' protecting ' me, and as a consequence a wrong interpretation 
was put on our friendship by the theatrical world, to which the 
word ' protector ' meant only one thing — lover. 

" People were bound to comment on the fact when a promi- 
nent man like Sarcey came night after night to the theatre and 
insisted on seeing me home. Why, he used to speak of me to 
his friends as his proUgee. What actually happened was that 
my art and my determination to succeed triumphed over his 

184 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

enmity, and, finding that he could not hamper my career, he did 
his best to make people think he was responsible for it. 

" He was subject to fits of extreme jealousy, and would carry 
on for hours if I so much as accepted another man's invitation to 
dinner. He acted as though he owned me, and when things got 
to this pass I decided to demonstrate to him that he did not." 

She accomplished this very effectually by yielding to the 
supplications of Mounet-Sully. 

When Sarah re-entered the Comedie Fran9aise, Mounet- 
Sully was the reigning power there. His fame was widespread ; 
he was probably not only the finest but also the handsomest 
actor on the European stage. 

Of Mounet-Sully it was written : " He is as handsome as a 
god, like a hero of Greek tragedy," and it was of these tragedies 
that he was incomparably the greatest interpreter of his epoch. 

There is reason to believe that Sarah's affair with Sully was 
secret for many months during which she and Sarcey, who sus- 
pected nothing at the time, remained friends. 

Later, however, he began to hear gossip linking their names, 
and once he overheard Sarah address Mounet-Sully by the familiar 
" tu." This may or may not have been significant, for artists of 
the French stage generally use the second person singular in 
talking among themselves. 

Mounet-Sully also was young, and of a jealous temperament. 
There came a day when he could no longer bear the covert sneers 
of the critic. Coming down from his dressing-room after a rehearsal, 
he found Sarcey striding backwards and forwards on the stage. 

" What are you doing here ? " he shouted. " Do not deny 
it- — you are waiting for Sarah ! " 

Sarah Bernhardt (aged 30) and her son, Maurice, on the only occasion 

when he acted with her. 

Photo, Henri Manuel.] 


Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 185 

" What if I am ? " demanded Sarcey imperturbably. " Who 
has a better right ? " 

" Pig ! Son of a pig ! " cried the enraged young actor, 
losing all self-control at the cool cynicism of the critic. " I 
challenge you to a duel ! " 

" I do not fight with children ! " replied Sarcey, and spat on 
the floor to signify his contempt. 

Sarah had been standing in the wings, and had overheard the 
dispute. She now came forward. 

" Francisque, take me to supper ! " she said, darting an angry 
look at Mounet -Sully. She could never bear these open quarrels 
between her admirers. 

The actor did not speak to her for a month, but they composed 
their differences later and remained lovers for almost a year, only 
to separate again as the result of another fit of jealousy on Mounet- 
Sully's part. 

For a short while they were again enemies, and then, once 
more deciding to make it up, remained friends throughout the 
remainder of Mounet-SuUy's long career. When he married — 
his grand-daughter recently obtained a premier prix at the Paris 
Conservatoire^ — Sarah was present at the wedding, and sent the 
young couple a magnificent gift. 

In 1874 Sarah was taken ill, as the result of a cold, which 
developed into pleurisy. She was in bed for a month, and at 
the end of this period an examination by three doctors revealed 
that one of her lungs was slightly affected. She was advised to 
leave the theatre, and to go to Switzerland for six months. 

" How long do you give me to live ? " she asked one of the 

i86 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" Not longer than five years, if you do not take a complete 
rest until you are cured," he replied. 

" Five years ! But that is a lifetime ! " she answered. 
" When I was seventeen the doctors gave me only three years, 
and I have lived thirteen. I shall continue acting until I die ! " 

And, despite all remonstrances from her friends, she returned 
to the theatre as soon as she was able to leave her bed. To the 
doctors' astonishment also, ten months later the spot on her lung 
completely disappeared. Perhaps it had never existed ! 

About this time she was asked by an admirer what he could 
send her as a souvenir. 

" They say I am to die," said Sarah, gaily, " so you may send 
me a coffin ! " 

The admirer took her at her word, and a week later she received 
a letter from a famous firm of coffin makers, stating that an order 
had been received for a coffin for mademoiselle, which was to be 
constructed according to her own wishes. 

Sarah was most particular in regard to this coffin. She made 
several designs, only to discard them one after the other. Finally 
she agreed that it should be constructed of fine-grained rosewood, 
and that the handles and " hoops " should be of solid silver. 
She afterwards had these changed to gold, but subsequently, during 
one of her frequent periods of impecuniosity, she sold the golden 
hoops and had them replaced with the silver ones that were on 
the coffin when she was buried. 

For the remainder of her life this coffin, " le cercueil de Sarah 
Bernhardt," never left her, even when she was travelling. It 
attained an almost legendary fame. She had a mahogany trestle 
made for the coffin, on which it stood at the end of her great bed, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 187 

so that she could see it from her pillow, without an effort, on 

" To remind me that my body will soon be dust and that my 
glory alone will live for ever ! " she said. 

" How long will it last ? " she inquired of the makers when 
they delivered the coffin. 

" For centuries ! " replied they. 

" It will need to last at least one, for I am determined to 
disappoint the doctors and live to be a hundred ! " she answered. 

She delighted to be photographed lying, dressed in different 
costumes, in her coffin. More than fifty different photographs 
and sketches were made of her in this situation. On occasions, 
when guests came to her house for tea, she would serve it to them 
on the coffin. 

Once she held a mock funeral. The rosewood coffin with its 
golden ornaments was brought with much pomp and ceremony 
into the studio-salon at the rear of her apartment, and Sarah, 
dressed in a long white robe and with a lily in her hand, climbed 
into it and lay at full-length as though dead. 

While I played the " Funeral March " by Chopin on the piano, 
the poet Robert de Montesquiou ceremoniously placed lighted 
candles around the coffin ; while the other guests, who included 
Jeanne Bernhardt, Madame Guerard and Madame de Winter, 
kept up a monotonous chant, reminiscent of the burial 

She carried the coffin ever3rwhere with her. It was a sight 
to see it loaded on top of the ancient carriage in which she was 
wont to make her provincial trips. At hotels in which she stayed, 
the coffin was invariably taken into her bedroom before she herself 

i88 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

would enter it, and placed in the accustomed position at the foot 
of the bed. 

On one occasion when we were touring the South of France, 
the personnel of a hotel at Nimes struck sooner than permit the 
coffin to be brought into the hotel. The superstitious proprietor 
was in tears, and swore that the funereal object meant unhappiness 
to his family and bad luck to his business. 

Nothing daunted, Sarah insisted on the coffin being brought 
in, and then called together the members of the troupe. 

" You and I," she said to me, " will be the cooks. You," 
indicating Pierre Berton (then my husband), " will be the waiter." 

Other members of the troupe were given their parts as chamber 
maids, dishwashers, valets and the like, and for a whole day we 
ran that hotel. The next day the personnel, having been given 
free tickets to the theatre, were so impressed by Sarah's personality 
that they returned to work in a body, and the manager, declaring 
that he had never eaten better meals than those prepared by 
Sarah and myself, refused to accept a franc in payment for our 
rooms and board. 

As soon as it was finished, Sarah had the coffin taken to 
her flat and placed alongside her Louis XVI. bed. Whenever 
visitors came to call upon her, she would make a point of showing 
them this strange piece of furniture. 

Her sister R^gine, who was tubercular, had been sent to 
Switzerland, but when her disease became complicated with 
another malady, all hope was given up, and she returned to Paris, 
to her sister's flat. 

Sarah had only just moved into this new home and had only 
one bedroom, so Regine and she at first shared the same bed. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 189 

Regine's condition grew so serious, however, that the doctors 
warned Sarah that she could no longer sleep with her sister 
without a serious risk of contracting the malady. 

Accordingly, Sarah made up a bed in the coffin and slept in 

When the doctor came he was horrified. 

" Take that thing out ! " he ordered. " It is not yet time ! " 

With some difficulty Sarah convinced him that the coffin was 
not meant for her sister, but was her own bed. A few days later 
Regine died. 

The tragedy had its effect on Sarah's life for a year or more, 
and she became a devout worker. Her name gradually ceased 
to be connected by gossipy writers with the scandals of the day. 
But after a year of mourning she flung off her mask of grief and 
" La Grande Sarah," as she was known, again became a reigning 
queen of Paris. 

She fitted up one of the rooms of her flat as a studio, and here, 
when she was not at the theatre or resting, she worked at painting 
and sculpture. 

Sarah Bernhardt, as Charles de Lagrille said, was not simply 
an incomparable artiste ; she was the artiste^ — artiste in the most 
complete sense of the word. She understood and realised in the 
most perfect fashion the ideal of Beauty. 

Sarah was not only the interpreter of Phedre, 

" La fill e de Minos et de PasiphcB," 

that demi-goddess whom she incarnated so superbly ; she was 
also the wise genius who discovered and launched poets and 
authors without number— Coppee, Mendfes, Richepin, and the two 

I go Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Rostands, father and son. But her love of beauty was not con- 
fined to the theatre alone ; she was equally at home in all branches 
of Art ; she was novelist, dramatist, painter and sculptor. 

Sarah Bernhardt published, in 1878, as we shall see, a book 
which was greatly appreciated by the literary critics of the time 
and which was entitled " In the Clouds." Replying to the famous 
and scurrilous publication " Sarah Barnum," she wrote in retahation 
a work called " Marie Pigeonnier." She was also the author 
of her own " Memoirs," and of two modest works of fiction, one 
of which was published only a few years before her death, as 
well as several short stories. 

Three successes were recorded by Sarah Bernhardt, the drama- 
tist. They were L'Aveu, produced at the Odeon in 1888 by 
such interpreters as Paul Mounet, Marquet, Raphaele, Sisos and 
Samary ; Adrienne Lecouvreur, a piece in five acts, in which she 
played the title part herself, and in which have since played such 
distinguished actors as de Max, Gerval, Decoeur and Charlotte 
Barbier ; and Un Cceur d' Homme, a three-act play, which 
Henry Roussel and Emmy Lyn produced in 1909. 

But the theatre is only one sphere of Art. The great actress 
was also a great painter. Her pictures, said critics, lacked the 
masterly technique that only long experience and training could 
have given her, but they were frank, well-proportioned, and dis- 
tinguished for their colour values. 

Just after she returned to the Comedie Fran9aise, she painted 
my portrait, and this picture, needless to say, is still one of 
my most prized possessions. It is reproduced in this book. 

At the Salon of 1878 she showed a remarkable composition 
entitled " Young Girl and Death." This canvas represented 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 191 

Death clutching at an artiste with a bouquet of flowers in her hand. 
It was an indication of the morbid strain in her character. 

In 1872, after her first triumph at the Comedie, the sculptor 
Mathieu-Mesnier asked for permission to make her bust. She 
consented, watched his work, and asked innumerable questions. 
Thereafter, nothing would do but that she herself must become 
a sculptress. 

Her first attempt in this direction was a medallion bust of her 
aunt at Neuilly. This was finished in one night and when ex- 
hibited astonished the critics by its virility and resemblance to 
the model. Mathieu-Mesnier continued to instruct her, and she 
passed most of her nights in modelling. 

Her next effort was a bust of her young sister, R^gine — 
made a few days before the latter's death. Others of her best 
sculptures (many of which were sold at the recent auction in 
Paris) were " After the Tempest," a group in marble ; busts of 
Victorien Sardou, Blanche Barretta, Busnach (the dramatist 
who prepared Zola for the theatre), Henry de la Pomoraye, 
Coquelin, junior ; her son, Maurice ; Louise Abbema and Edmond 
Rostand. The last was completed after the poet's death, and 
was exhibited in the Rostand museum. 

192 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


" La Grande Sarah " had now become an extraordinary figure 
in the contemporary life of Paris, There were two camps, one 
composed of her friends, the other of her enemies, and at one 
time it was difficult to know which group was the more numerous. 

The friends of Sarah were called the " Sara dot eurs," and 
cartoons of the great actress surrounded by her court became 
commonplaces in the metropolitan press. The weeklies were 
full of real or imagined escapades of the triumphant artiste of 
the Comedie Frangaise. 

It was said that she bathed in milk ; that she had made the 
circuit of the Champs Elysees in the snow, with neither shoes nor 
stockings on ; that she had entered the cage of a lion at the St. 
Cloud fete, and subsequently purchased the lion ; that she had a 
regular menagerie chained up in her flat and that in consequence 
the neighbours had complained and that she was to be forced to 
move ; that she had been twice seen on the boulevards with the 
young Prince Napoleon, who was supposed to be in exile ; that 
she was at heart a Bonapartist, and was secretly working for the 
restoration of the monarchy ; that she had an enormous appetite 
for strong drink ; that she had ordered a coach-and-four in gold 
and ebony that was to cost two hundred thousand francs ; that 
she had slapped the face of Perrin, the director of the Theatre 
Frangais ; that she was not a woman at all, but a boy masquerad- 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 193 

ing in woman's clothes (this was doubtless owing to Sarah's start- 
ling success in young male parts) ; that Gambetta himself had 
called upon her, and had been received in the actress's cabinet de 
toilette, where she happened to be washing herself ; that she had 
given five hundred francs to a blind beggar, because she thought 
he resembled a former lover ; that she dressed up as a man and 
frequented public balls in disguise, challenging men friends to 
duels and then revealing herself to them. 

I have no way of verifying any of these tales. From what I 
myself know of Sarah and her way of living, I expect that parts 
of them, at any rate, were true. 

It was a saying that there were three celebrated hours in 
Paris : One o'clock, Gambetta smokes his second cigar ; four 
o'clock, prices fall at the Bourse ; five o'clock, Sarah receives for 

Every afternoon her flat was filled with a motley assembly of 
the great and the nearly great. Sarah used to receive them in 
her sculptor's clothes, a kind of pyjama costume, designed by 
herself and made of silk. She would stand at the entrance of her 
workroom, imperious as a queen receiving homage from her people. 

The first thing guests perceived on entering was a gigantic 
dog on a short chain, which growled and sprang at everyone who 
came in. Many people could not be persuaded to visit Sarah on 
account of this dog. My aunt was one — I never got her past the 
door, where she would sit and wait for me patiently, while telling 
the growling animal, from a safe distance, what she thought of 

This dog was a great friend of mine, and not the brute which 

sprang at my throat in the manner related in a preceding chapter. 


194 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

He never growled at me, though I was in and out of Sarah's 
home at all hours of the day. I used to help her to mix her clay, 
and several times posed for an effect that she wanted to get 

A flight of five or six stairs led up to the first reception room, 
where champagne cup usually stood on a small table ; and in the 
hall outside this room a disagreeable surprise awaited the unwary 
visitor. This was a full-sized monkey, which was fastened by one 
leg to a chair, but was otherwise free to move about — which he 
did, with a great chattering and gnashing of teeth. 

The little drawing-room had in it two birdcages and a great 
tank of goldfish, while cats and small dogs roamed about in a 
most casual way. Philippe, an old waiter whom Sarah had 
persuaded to leave the Cafe du Foyer (?) and enter her service, 
was in perpetual terror of all these animals and eventually left 
Sarah's service, after he had been bitten in the hand by the 

Sarah usually had something new in the way of statuary to 
show her guests. I remember well when she did her " Medee," 
a piece almost as big as she was herself ; and once, when I entered 
unannounced, I found her starting the bust of the famous Adolphe 
de Rothschild, for which he had promised her ten thousand francs. 
Sarah had a lot of trouble with this piece of work. She said it 
was because the Baron continually changed his expression. At 
any rate, when the bust was finally achieved, all Rothschild's 
comment, after looking at it, was to say drily : 
" Is that me ? " 

Then he turned to a writing-table to draw up an order on his 
bank for the ten thousand francs, only to be arrested by a crash. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 195 

Sarah stood in the centre of the floor panting, her eyes flashing 
and her breast heaving. On the floor lay the bust, smashed to 
a thousand pieces. 

Baron de Rothschild, without a word, turned and left the 
room. The next day he received his bust' — in a thousand pieces — 
" with Sarah Bernhardt's compliments." 

The story became common property and Rothschild never 
spoke to her again. She remained friends with others of the same 
family, however, and there came a day when she was grateful 
for their help. 

Sarah fitted up a magnificent studio near the Place de Clichy, 
in the avenue now chiefly distinguished for the number of night 
establishments which grace — or disgrace — it. It was a large, 
bare place, with immense windows, several step-ladders, and a 
divan covered with skins. For principal adornment it had a 
single, magnificent, white bear skin, which was the first present 
Sarah received from Georges Clairin, the painter and mural 
decorator — of whom more anon. He had been her admirer 
for years but it was not until 1879 that she yielded to his per- 
sistent pleadings and became really intimate with him. 

The place was littered with scraps of plaster, old frames, 
cross-trees, brushes, supports, mallets, chisels and other para- 
phernalia of the sculptor and painter. 

An old man who had once been an actor of repute, but who had 
been reduced to poverty and disgrace by morphine, was employed 
as a sort of general factotum. He would be an exemplary servant 
for a month or so, and then the drug passion would seize him and 
he would disappear for a week, during which the studio became 
littered with all kinds of refuse, from broken statues — which had 

196 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

been thrown violently to the floor by Sarah in fits of dissatisfaction, 
despondency or rage — to empty bottles of champagne and 
liqueurs, with which she was wont to entertain her guests. 

About this time, if my memory serves me right, occurred the 
famous duel fought by Richard O'Monroy, the writer in La 
Vie Parisienne, and Edouard de Lagrenee, a distinguished young 
diplomat, whose infatuation for Sarah was like that of so many 
other men — terrific while it lasted, but of brief duration, 

Sarah was in the habit of giving " soirees amusantes " in 
her atelier on nights when she was not billed to act at the Comedie. 

These soirees consisted for the most part of conversation, 
recitals by poetic friends of the actress, gossip, and sometimes 
dancing. They were, in the word of Paris, " tres a la 

Sarah's invitations were much sought after, but she never 
sent a formal one. It was understood that friends of hers were 
always welcome, and welcome also to bring any friends of their 
own. Thus Sophie Croizette — who, despite her rivalry with 
Sarah, had remained a friend outside of theatrical hours — appeared 
about nine o'clock one night, dragging by the hand a pale, 
anaemic-looking youngster, who appeared to be extremely bashful 
and intensely desirous of being elsewhere, 

" See what I have caught ! " cried Sophie, advancing into 
the atelier and dragging her young man after her. But the 
" catch " suddenly twisted his hand from hers and, without a 
word, turned tail and ran away. They rushed after him, to see 
his coat tails flying down the street fifty yards away. 

" Who," demanded Sarah, when she had finished laughing, 
" was that extraordinary person ? " 

Sarah Bernhardt in Theodora. 

p. igf"'. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 197 

" That," answered Sophie Croizette, " was a Consul of France 
— and he is madly in love with you ! " 

Sarah looked at her, astonished. 

" But," she said, " I have never seen him before ! " 

" He has seen every performance you have given for nearly 
six months, since he returned from Rome," explained Sophie. 

" But who is he ? " demanded Sarah, enormously intrigued, 
but uncertain whether to be pleased or to be angry. 

" He is a young Republican, a protege of MacMahon, and was 
made a consul. His family is a very distinguished one ; you 
will find it in the Liste des Families," explained Mile. Croizette. 
" He is also a poet, and has written some fine verses about you, 
which he has been afraid to send. He is the most bashful man 
in all Paris ! " 

This was enough to excite the interest of Sarah Bernhardt ! 

A few nights later she perceived the bashful one in the back 
seat of a box near the stage. She smiled at him, but the poor 
young man was too timid to smile back, Sarah determined that, 
by hook or by crook, she would get to know him. He had, she 
decided, a face of singular beauty. 

From inquiries she made here and there among her friends, 
she found that he had served in the war, and that he had 
an enviable record for bravery. It is thus with many timid, 
unassuming men. 

De Lagrenee was a man of noble artistic temperament, very 
much the idealist and the passionate lover — but so far he had done 
his passionate loving at a distance. 

" Who is the remarkable-looking man with the decoration in 
that box ? " she asked Mounet-Sully, who was pla5dng with her. 

198 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" That is Edouard de Lagrcnee," answered Mounet-SuUy. 
" He is very distinguished in the diplomatic service," 

During the first entr'acte, through a hole in the curtain, she 
pointed out de Lagrenee to a call-boy. 

" You see that man ? " she said. " Send him to me ! " 

But her messenger returned without him. 

" Monsieur thanks Mile. Sarah Bernhardt for her courtesy, but 
begs to state that he is a worshipper on a lower plane, and would 
not dare to approach the altar of his goddess ! " was the quaint 
reply of the diplomat. 

Sarah did not know whether to be offended or pleased. In 
any case she was immensely interested, and determined at once 
to bring about an occasion on which de Lagrenee would be obliged 
to meet her. 

Accordingly she made inquiries and found that he was in 
the habit of frequenting the Salon held by Madame Lobligeois 
in her house in the Avenue des Champs Elysees — a villa set back 
in what were then woods — which had become a rendezvous of 
the intellectual set. Through her old friend Duquesnel, still 
director of the Odeon, she arranged to be invited to one of these 
exclusive affairs, and that her intention to be present should be 
kept a secret. 

The afternoon came. De Lagrenee, according to his custom, 
was entertaining the company at the house of Mme. Lobligeois 
with his views on artistic subjects, when the door opened without 
warning and Sarah swept in, followed by that cohort of faithful, 
gay young idolators whom she termed her " performing seals." 

As had been arranged beforehand, Duquesnel hastened for- 
ward and, on seeing de Lagrenee, cried : 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 199 

" Ah, my dear fellow, allow me to present you to Her Majesty 
the Queen of Paris ! " 

There being no avenue of escape, de Lagrenee, who, although 
genuinely timid and embarassed, was none the less a gentleman, 
found himself pushed forward into the presence of the woman 
whom he had, for so long and from such a distance, adored. 

Sarah at once drew him aside and began an animated, if one- 
sided, conversation. De Lagrenee was too reticent or too bash- 
ful to say much ; but under Sarah's friendly smile he gradually 
gained courage, with the result that when she gave him an invita- 
tion to visit her in her dressing-room and afterwards to sup alone 
with her at her flat, he stammered his acceptance, overwhelmed 
with a mixture of confusion and joy. 

From then on the affair followed the customary course. 
Sarah made excessive demands on de Lagrenee. She insisted 
that he should take her everywhere and be seen with her in public 
restaurants and in society. From a distant worshipper, he became 
her abject slave. People called him " Sarah's messenger boy," 
and " Sarah's little dog." Never a day passed without a mass 
of fresh flowers being sent to her dressing-room by the young 

At length the scandalous rumour that he was Sarah's latest 
conquest reached the ears of his aristocratic parents, who belonged 
to a set which severely disapproved of the stage and everyone 
connected with it . Aghast, they sent for their son and commanded 
him to sever his connection with the actress at once. 

By nature a dutiful son, he agreed, although not without 
considerable heart-pangs, as may be imagined. When Sarah 
heard about his pledge, however, and the arguments that had 

200 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

exacted it, she went to the house of his parents in a fury, insisted 
on admittance, created a terrible scene, and frightened and 
astonished them both beyond measure. Finally when de 
Lagrenee appeared, she overwhelmed his halting objections and 
carried him off with her in her carriage. 

A week later de Lagrenee was directed to join the French 
consular staff at St, Petersburg, that being the city the farthest 
away from Sarah that his parents could think of. And the 
romance was effectually stopped. Before he left for Russia, 
however, an incident occurred which nearly cost de Lagrenee 
his life. 

Richard O'Monroy, besides writing his weekly chronicles in 
La Vie Parisienne, was one of those society hangers-on who love 
to boast of their conquests of women. He used to do this, not 
only in allegedly witty conversation, but, in veiled terms, in 
the salacious weekly to which he contributed. 

He chose this moment to relate — ^using assumed names, of 
course, but with descriptions which revealed better than mere 
names could have done — how, in a quarter of an hour, he had 
made the conquest of Sarah Bernhardt ! 

Sarah was terribly offended, not so much at the way the article 
was written, but at the idea that any man could dare to claim 
that he had " conquered " her — and in fifteen minutes at that ! 

Hurrying to de Lagrenee, she laid the article before him. The 
young consular official was furious, and sent an immediate challenge 
to O'Monroy, despite the fact that the chronicler was a notoriously 
expert swordsman, while de Lagrenee was small, physically 
weak, and no fencer at all. 

The duel was arranged according to the code, and was fixed 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 201 

to take place in the Bois de Boulogne one morning at five o'clock. 
Sarah watched it from the closed windows of her coach. Neither 
antagonist knew that she was there, the coach being hidden 
behind some trees in an allee usually reserved for riders. 

As was to be expected, de Lagrenee was overwhelmed from the 
outset, and in less than two minutes he was severely wounded in 
the thigh. 

Seeing him lying bleeding on the ground, Sarah would have 
run to him and covered him with caresses, but she was prevented 
by her companions. 

During his convalescence, she was barred from the sick- 
room and had to content herself with daily letters and flowers. 

As soon as he recovered, he was ordered to his post at St. 
Petersburg, and the short-lived romance was over. 

Sarah never forgot de Lagrenee, and for several years she kept 
up a correspondence with him. His letters which, according to 
her custom, she destroyed— were full of tender, poetic messages, 
pleading love of and faith in her. A man less fitted to be a 
diplomat probably never existed. Sarah always spoke of him 
to me in terms of genuine affection. 

202 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


Nowadays almost anything can be said about a theatrical star 
and her manager is glad. He knows that the more she is written 
about, the more she is talked about, the larger will be the receipts 
of the theatre at which she is playing. Even the ancient and 
eminently respectable Comedie Frangaise has been obliged to 
accept this point of view — though not without some pangs, I 
imagine. Witness the celebrated escapade of Mile. Cecile Sorel, 
great and exquisite interpreter of Moliere, who two years ago visited 
a public gallery and smashed an uncomplimentary " portrait " 
of her by Bib, a young cartoonist. The press of the world was 
full of the incident, but, so far as is known, the actress was not 
hauled over the coals by the administration of the Comedie 

But in the seventies and eighties a different view was taken 
of such matters. An artiste was supposed to be contented 
with reviews of the plays she appeared in, and the Comedie 
Frangaise especially deplored any effort on the part of an individual 
actress to make herself known by any other method than the 
excellence of her acting. 

Thus it may be imagined that Sarah was rapidly making 
enemies for herself. One could not open a newspaper or a mag- 
azine without reading some article devoted to her, without seeing 
an account of some escapade of hers. Sarah herself has said in 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 203 

her "Memoirs" that she regretted this publicity, without being 
able to suppress it, and that she never read the newspapers. 
Perhaps she may be pardoned this slight lapse of memory. 

Many times I have found her in the morning, her bed covered 
with marked copies of publications sent her by friends, and by 
writers of paragraphs about her. She gloried in them. She 
did not care what people said about her, so long as they said 
something. She herself, to my certain knowledge, inspired many 
of the most far-fetched stories. 

When she found that the cartoonists had seized upon her 
slender figure and fuzzy hair as heaven-sent objects on which to 
exercise their talents, she wore clothes that accentuated her 
slimness, and her hair became more studiously unruly than ever. 
When she found that every foolish thing she did was immediately 
commented upon in a score of newspapers, hostile as well as 
friendly, she spent hours thinking out new escapades, and made 
foolishness an art. 

She was the first actress who really understood the value of 

Genius can be as eccentric as it pleases, but eccentricity 
without genius becomes a boomerang, to hurl fools into oblivion. 

Had Sarah been a lesser woman all this publicity would have 
ruined her, but she really was a genius, and not only possessed 
a talent for self-advertisement, but had a genuine passion for 
work. People who had read dozens of idiotic stories about her 
would visit the theatre prepared to scoff — but they remained to 
applaud her frantically. 

She was bigger than all the publicity she obtained. Her art 
justified all. But her manager, Perrin, and the committee of 

204 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

the Comedie could not see things that way. They were horrified 
and disgusted at the notoriety that had descended on the vener- 
able House of Moliere, as the result of the follies of their star. 

Perrin used to remonstrate violently with her. 

" You are a disgrace to the theatre and to your art ! " he 
said in my hearing on one occasion. " You will ruin the Comedie 
with your insanities ! " 

" I will resign, then ! " said Sarah promptly. And Perrin 
immediately became contrite, for Sarah drew more people to the 
box-office than any two artists the Comedie possessed, even in- 
cluding Mounet-SuUy and Sophie Croizette. 

Louis Giffard was then one of the lions of Paris. Giffard 
was a balloonist, and balloon ascensions were the clou of the 1878 
Exhibition. Giffard had long been an admirer of Sarah's, and 
as he started one of his ascents he threw a wreath of flowers at 
her as she stood in a little group of spectators. For this gentle 
act of courtesy she invited him to dine with her. 

" Tiens, Sarah ! " said Clairin, during this festivity, " there 
is something you have not done yet — you have not gone up in a 
balloon ! " 

" She has her head always in the clouds ! " grumpily put in 
Alexandre Dumas, junior, who had had many a lively passage 
of arms with his most unruly interpreter. But Sarah took up 
the suggestion immediately. 

Turning enthusiastically to Giffard, she asked : " It is true ? 
Can you take me up in your balloon ? " 

" It would be the crowning point of my career ! " responded 
Giffard gallantly. 

" When can we go ? " asked Sarah, all excitement. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 205 

" To-morrow morning, if you wish ! " 

Sarah seized Georges Clairin by the arm. " And you, Georges 
• — will you come into the clouds with me, too ? " 

" He would be a poor poet who would not follow an angel into 
her natural element ! " answered Clairin, kissing her. 

Everyone present was sworn to strict secrecy, and the next 
morning, at seven o'clock, we trooped out to the space just out- 
side the city gates where Giffard's balloon was in readiness. He 
had been there since dawn, making his preparations, and when we 
arrived everything was ready. 

Sarah, as she started to climb into the balloon, turned and 
saw me crying. 

" What is the matter, ma petite Therese ? " she asked, putting 
her arms around me. I said that I wanted to go, too. 

" There is no room," said Giffard. " You shall make an 
ascent with me another time." 

" But I want to go with Sarah ! " I wailed. 

Everyone laughed, and Gustave Dore, the illustrator, caught 
me up in his arms. " But, ma cherie," he remonstrated, " sup- 
pose the balloon falls and you are all killed ? " 

" I would not care, so long as I was with my Sarah ! " I replied 

There was a roar of laughter, and then Sarah was hoisted into 
the basket by Clairin and Giffard, both of whom mounted after 
her. There was a shout of " Cast off," and the next thing I knew 
the balloon was hundreds of feet above us, the three in the basket 
shrilling some indistinguishable words of farewell. 

Somebody pointed out the balloon to Perrin, who was on his 
way to his office. 

2o6 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" There goes your pensionnaire ! " he was told. 

Perrin at first did not understand. 

" Sarah Bernhardt is in that balloon ! " 

Perrin angrily rushed to the theatre, called together a special 
meeting of the committee of administration, announced the news, 
and said that he had decided to fine Sarah a thousand francs. 

" I have had enough of her imbecilities ! " he declared. 

The balloon did not fly very far and came down seventy miles 
from Paris ; and that evening the three aeronauts were back 
again, Sarah delighted beyond words with her experience. 

In the morning she was informed by Perrin that she was to 
be fined. Sarah flew into a rage, went home, wrote out her resigna- 
tion, and sent it to Perrin by a messenger. As usual, the threat 
prevailed. The fine was withdrawn, and so was Sarah's resigna- 
tion. But Perrin did not forgive her for a long time. 

For a year or more it was open war between Sarah Bernhardt 
and the directors of the Comedie. Most of the men in the com- 
pany sided against Sarah. She often complained that her male 
associates of the stage were far more jealous than the women, and 
that they would stoop to greater meannesses to revenge themselves. 
They caused her so many petty annoyances that she finally made 
up her mind to leave the Comedie. 

The idea grew on her. She felt, as she expressed it, a prisoner 
in a cage of lions. Not only did they want to control her life in 
the theatre, but her private life was subject to their interference 
as well. 

Time and time again she threatened to resign. Finally, to 
appease her, they had to promise to make her a " full member " 
of the company — an honour not usually given till after fifteen or 

Sarah Bernhardt in Hamlet. 
From the well-known painting by Louis Besnard. 

Photo, Henri Manuel.} 

p. 202. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 207 

twenty years with the Comedie — and accordingly raise her salary. 
But still she was discontented. She was making 20,000 francs a 
year, and spending 50,000. 

She decided that space was too restricted in her flat and 
resolved to build for herself a private house. Private houses in 
Paris, then as now, were the property only of the wealthy. 
Over nine hundred out of every thousand people live in flats. 

She chose a magnificent plot on the rue Fortuny, in what is 
now the exclusive residential section of the Plaine Monceau, but 
which then was practically a desert. Felix Escalier, a famous 
architect, was called into consultation by the actress, and together 
they designed a three-story house of noble dimensions and beauti- 
ful lines. Bordering it on two sides was to be a spacious garden. 

Sarah could scarcely contain herself when the plans were 
finally approved and the building begun. The work seemed to 
her interminable. To hasten construction, a call was sent out for 
more workmen, but none were to be had, so a band of her student 
friends took off their coats, donned the white aprons of masons, 
and gave their services free, joyful to be of use. 

In a little under a year the house was finished, and Sarah ran- 
sacked the shops of Paris for furniture and appointments, 

Georges Clairin, madly in love with her, undertook to paint 
four mural decorations, the largest of which was in the reception 
hall. It represented nude figures gambolling on fleecy clouds, 
and made an enormous sensation. 

The sensation came from the fact that the head of the central 
figure was undoubtedly that of Sarah, and there was considerable 
discussion as to whether she had posed for the entire body. Clairin 
finally settled the argument. 

2o8 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" A professional model posed for the body," he said. " Sarah 
is much too thin." 

The explanation satisfied everybody, for there was no gain- 
saying the fact that Sarah was abnormally thin. 

But the gossipy weeklies seized on the affair with avidity, and 
Sarah's attachment to Georges Clairin soon became public property. 
Of course, both were tremendously criticised. Their denials were 
not listened to. Sarah was dumbfounded at the venom of some 
of the attacks. 

" These canaille ! " she said, contempt ously referring to her 
critics. " They say that I am selfish — well, what woman is not ? 
They say that I am greedy — but did you ever know me to have a 
spare franc I could call my own ? They say I am cold and haughty, 
but that is because I will not suffer the presence of fools ! They 
say that I am indiscreet' — it is they who are indiscreet ! They 
say that I have never really loved, that I am cruel and ambitious, 
that I pull men down and climb over their bodies on my ascent 
to fame — it is not true ! I am ambitious ; yes, and I am jealous 
of a success won by hard work ; but I am haughty only to those 
whom I despise, and I am cruel^ — never ! It is they who are cruel 
to me ! " 

" They delight in sticking knives into me ! " she declared on 
another occasion. 

" I hate them ! " she said again, passionately. " I hate them ! 
They tear down gods ! All Paris is my enemy and all Paris 
is at my feet." 

On other occasions she was merely scornful. 

" Let them talk, these little people ! " she would say. " They 
think they are throwing stones at me, but every stone goes to 
help in building the structure of my success ! " 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 209 

And it was true. The more people ranted against Sarah, the 
greater she became. She was by now the greatest feminine 
personahty — I say it in all seriousness — that France had known 
since Joan of Arc. 

Her romance with Georges Clairin was a beautiful thing. She 
was, I am convinced, genuinely in love with the great painter. 

She spent all her afternoons for weeks in Clairin's studio. 
Sometimes they would work silently for hours, side by side, 
scarcely exchanging a word. At others they would abandon 
work and sit and talk to each other, oblivious of their surround- 
ings. Sarah inspired many of Clairin's paintings, and was the 
model for several. 

Once I accompanied her to Clairin's studio. It was a great 
room, bare of ornament except for easels and pictures that were 
scattered about. Over a huge sofa hung a white bear skin, similar 
to the one Clairin had given to Sarah. 

Clairin was not there when we arrived, and Sarah astonished 
me by crossing to the sofa and proceeding to take off her shoes 
and stockings. 

" Whatever are you doing ? " I demanded. 

" He is going to paint my feet," she answered, and indicated 
a large unfinished canvas, representing Sarah as a Gypsy boy, 
in rags, wielding a mouth organ. A tame bear danced to the 
music, and a greasy Bohemian, presumably the boy's father, turned 
the handle of a street piano. 

Where this canvas went I never knew. It was not exhibited, 

as far as I am aware. Some said that Sarah destroyed it in a 

fit of rage, when she quarrelled with Clairin. Her romances 

invariably had their climax in these terrific disputes. 


210 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

When the artist entered, clad in a green velvet jacket, Sarah 
ran to him crying : " Mon petit Geogotte ! Mon petit Geogotte ! " 

She fondled him, kissing his face and long hair, scolding him 
for spots of paint on his black tie, and using little endearing ad- 
jectives that were a fresh revelation to me of Sarah, the lover, 

Clairin showed her a painting in water-colours which he had 
done while visiting at Fontainebleau. Taking a crayon, he wrote 
on the back : "To the Perfect Woman," and handed it to her. 

The next day she chose a little statue she had herself modelled, 
and sent it to him, with the inscription : "To my perfect man, 
from Sara," spelling her name without the " h," as she sometimes 

Clairin presented her with fifteen different paintings, all of 
which she kept until the end of her life. Five were of herself. 

These paintings were : "A Portrait of Alexandre Dumas 
fils," signed by both Clairin and Dumas ; " Sarah Bernhardt, 
Lecturer "■ — this was done as recently as 1914 ; " Sarah Bernhardt 
as Theodora " ; " Portrait of Charles Gounod " ; " View of 
Beg-Meil " ; "The Toilet of Cupid " ; "The Fool and the Skull " ; 
" The Attack on the Fort by the Blues " ; " Sarah Bernhardt as 
Cleopatra " ; " Sarah Bernhardt between Comedy and Tragedy " ; 
" Repose on a Rock " ; " The Stairway in the Cliff " ; " The 
Virgin of Avila " ; " Sarah Bernhardt as Theroigne de Meri- 
court " ; " Characters of Comedy." The last was a sketch in 
black-and-white . 

These pictures, all of which were signed and dedicated to Sarah 
by Clairin, fetched unexpectedly low prices at the Paris sale of 
her effects two months after her death. One was sold for as low 
as 160 francs — ^then about two guineas — while the highest price, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 211 

fifteen hundred francs, was paid for the portrait of Sarah as 
Theodora, which was conceded to be one of Clairin's greatest 

Their romance lasted for several months. Then came the 
inevitable rupture, the cause of which nobody knew, and Sarah 
left for a tour in America, while Clairin went to a hermit-like 
seclusion in his home in the Midi. 

When both returned to Paris they were no longer lovers, but 
they remained very good friends, and Clairin, until he died shortly 
after the Armistice, was one of the most devoted of the little court 
surrounding Sarah. 

He was frequently a visitor at her house, and in his old age 
spent a few weeks of every year at her property at Belle Isle, 
off the coast of Brittany. 

Clairin was a year older than Sarah Bernhardt. He possessed 
a nature very similar to hers. 

212 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


The publication of Sarah's book " Dans les Nuages," which was 
at once a defence of her actions, a scornful reply to her critics and 
a picturesque description of her flight in the balloon, brought down 
on her head still more criticism, and still further admonishment 
from M. Perrin, the director of the Comedie Fran9aise. 

But now she lived a monarch in a little world apart. Her 
art while on the stage was such that even her sternest opponents 
were obliged to hold their tongues in reluctant admiration, while 
she now openly maintained the right to live her private life as 
she pleased. Every protest from Perrin brought forth the haughty 
reply that if he was dissatisfied she was perfectly willing to leave 
the Comedie Frangaise for ever. What made him powerless in 
any struggle with her was the fact that the Comedie was a 
government institution, and that Sarah had friends in very high 

She was a striking figure of a woman, as I remember her at 
this epoch. 

Her extreme slenderness, accentuated by the exaggerated 
lacing of the clothes she wore, contrived to give her the impression 
of height ; whereas she was in reality no taller than the normal 
person. Her complexion was naturally pale from her anaemia — 
a malady which had persisted — but, not content with the effect 
thus achieved, she must needs paint her face a chalk white, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 213 

relieved only by the slender etching of her widely-separated eye- 
brows, and by a pair of cleverly-reddened lips. Her forehead 
was high and arched, and her hair was the same riotous and tangled 
mass of crinkled confusion which had made her remarkable as a 
child. Her eyes were the singularly lovely blue of the clear 
sky just after the dawn — light -coloured, but seemingly of illimit- 
able depth. 

When she was serious, they would be downcast, shielded by 
long, curving lashes, mysterious and almost oriental in their 
pensive languor. When she was interested, they would snap into 
life with an extraordinary vivacity and play of expression ; 
when she was angry, which was often enough, actual sparks of 
blue fire seemed to dart from eyes that had miraculously grown 
into two large, burning pools of wrath. No man I ever saw, 
except Damala, ever long withstood the challenge of those eyes 
when Sarah, wistful and imperious, desired to have her way. 

After an interview with her and an ineffectual attempt to 
discipline his wilful star, Perrin invariably ended his lecture 
by throwing up his hands, uttering a short word of mingled sup- 
plication and terror, and escaping into an inner ofhce. 

Sarah was a supreme conversationalist. I never knew anyone 
her match in ordinary talk. She could be eloquent on fifty 
current topics, and had something original and interesting to 
say about all of them. The fact that she could hold such men as 
Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas fils, Georges Clairin, Gustave Dore, 
and others like them, enthralled by the sheer power of her person- 
aUty as partly expressed by her skill in conversation, is proof 
enough of her many-sided genius. 

She was the first great feminine adherent to the capricious 

214 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

cult of " je m'en fichisme," which is best interpreted as an abso- 
lute disregard of convention and an existence studiousty carried 
along the lines of " the individual before the crowd." 

Sarah was beautiful ; she was brilliant. She was a genius ; she 
was a hard-worker ; she was prodigious in her handling of men — 
she seldom had less than a dozen famous ones around her — and 
her charm, as well as her antipathetic side, was due to her sublime 
belief in herself above everything and everybody. 

Perrin, Got and other theatrical celebrities used to beg and 
plead with her to dress in quieter and less conspicuous ways 
which would be more in conformity with the fashion. 

"La mode!" she exclaimed indifferently. " Je m'en fiche 
de la mode ! Let fashion follow me ! " 

And frequently fashion did. Sarah was thin, narrow-chested, 
bony in places and walked with a stride. The fashion was for 
plump women, of rounded and gracious line. Sarah remained 
totally indifferent to the fashion, and within a few years she found 
herself a leader of the mode, with plumpness and bouffonerie beating 
a protesting retreat. 

When she was forty, her arms had grown so thin that they had 
to be concealed, even with evening dress, so she invented the 
shoulder-length glove, which immediately jumped into fashion. 

She launched several kinds of corsets, one of which still bears 
her name. Her footwear was seized on and copied extensively. 
She was the first woman in France to wear high leather buttoned 
boots with an ordinary street dress. 

She was the first woman to bid her dressmaker insert jewels 
in her slippers. She was the first woman to wear ostrich plumes 
as an ornament to her evening coiffure. She was the first woman 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 215 

audaciously to defy convention, and receive her friends in her 
painter's garb of silken pyjamas ! 

She did this, she did that, she did anything she pleased. 
Whenever anybody started a great outcry against her, others would 
shrug their shoulders and exclaim, " Mais, c'est Sarah I " She was 
Sarah. That was answer enough. If ever a woman in France has 
been a law unto herself, it was Sarah at that time — a whole lexicon 
of law, in fact. 

Naturally, she got into numerous scrapes. She was thrice 
sued for debt, as a result of her lavish expenditure during the 
building of her house in the rue Fortuny. Whenever she saw 
anything she liked, she could not rest until she had acquired it. 
Her salary at the Comedie was only 20,000 francs a year^ — only 
£800, even at that time^yet with this, and the small sums left 
her by her father and by several relatives, she managed to live 
in a style and with an ostentation surpassed by but few persons 
of her age. 

The furniture in her house had been acquired absolutely 
regardless of cost, and a lot of it was taken away again when she 
did not pay for it. Dealers were glad to sell things to her, and to 
take their money as and when she paid them, for the fact that 
Sarah Bernhardt had bought an article was certain to start a fad 
for it. 

Her dresses, her hats and her shoes never cost her anything. 
In later years I even heard it stated that her dressmaker actually 
paid her to wear his creations ! It was a triumph for any dealer 
to be able to say, " Sarah Bernhardt bought one like that," or, 
" Sarah Bernhardt was wearing one like that yesterday," or, 
" Sarah Bernhardt has one in her dining-room." 

2i6 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

The mural decorations and the works of art in her house, 
fortunately, did not cost Sarah anything. They were mostly 
gifts of such great friends as Georges Clairin, Louise Abbema — 
of whose paintings, when she died, Sarah possessed more than 
eighty — Sir Edward Burne- Jones — ^who had been caught in the 
siege of Paris, and had then met and fallen captive to Sarah — 
Ernest Duez, Theodore Fantin-Latour, Maxime Guyon, Hector 
Giacomelli, Rene Raoul Griffon, Graham Robertson, Luc Olivier 
Merson, Germain Fabien Brest, John Lewis Brown, Robert 
Fleury, Vastagh Gezah, Alfred Stevens, and many other great 
and famous artists of the brush. 

Most of the above-mentioned persons frequented her house. 
I have seen a dozen famous painters and six or seven great authors 
aU listening to Sarah together — and finding joy in it. She ruled 
her little court with a rod of iron, but she wrapped the rod in 
silk. Victor Hugo, watching her at work in her studio on one 
occasion, said : 

" Ah ! madame, how I wish I could paint ! " 

" But you can ! " replied Sarah. 

"No," said Hugo. 

" Tu es ridicule!" responded Sarah. "Anyone who can 
write or who can act can paint if he tries ! " 

Then and there Sarah constituted herself his teacher, with the 
result that Hugo became an extremely creditable artist, chiefly 
with pen-and-ink. His chief delight was in sketching-tours, 
which he undertook with Sarah during her rare holidays' — tours 
in which Clairin and Dore would generally also take part. It was 
a novel and extraordinary sight to see these three wonderful 
men and this single eccentric woman set forth together on foot 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 217 

from the gates of Paris, huge sketch-books under their 

But things were fast approaching their inevitable climax 
at the Comedie Frangaise. 

Perrin and his committee had entered into a contract with 
Messrs. John Hollingshead and Mayer for a six weeks' French 
repertory season at the Gaiety Theatre in London. The contract 
called for the appearance in the English capital of most of the 
stars of the Comedie, including Sarah Bernhardt, Sophie 
Croizette, Marie Lloyd, Mounet-Sully, Coquelin and Got. 

Sarah was afire with excitement at the idea of playing before 
a foreign audience, but a difficulty that seemed insurmountable 
presented itself. 

Sarah was still only a part societaire. An actress enters the 
Comedie as a debutante, or kind of apprentice. Unless she has 
extraordinary ^alent and still more extraordinary luck, she is likely 
to remain in this decidedly inferior position, both as regards rank 
and salary, for several years. Then, by decree of the committee, 
endorsed by the Minister of Fine Arts, she is made a part member, 
with half or two-thirds of the salary of a full member. Sometimes 
an actress remained at the Comedie twenty or twenty-five years 
without being made a full member. Sarah had been there nearly 
eight years. The salary of a full member was thirty thousand 
francs a year ; Sarah was receiving twenty thousand. 

The difficulty arose not so much from the question of salary, 
however, as from the fact that Sarah Bernhardt would be playing 
in a foreign capital, and would be in an inferior position as regards 
the billing and the programmes. The custom of the Comedie 
was strict in this regard : the name of the oldest societaire in 

2i8 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

rank appeared first on the programme, regardless of the role 
she played. This was understood in Paris ; it might easily be 
misunderstood in London, 

" If," insisted Sarah, " I go to London, it must be as a full 
member, with a full member's privileges and emoluments." 

There was an immediate rebellion in the committee. 

" We have had enough of her caprices ! " cried Perrin. " Let 
her remain here, if she wants to ! I will not consent to her 
demands ! " 

Nothing in Sarah's contract, it appeared, obliged her to travel 
abroad. So it was settled that she should not go. 

Then Hollingshead and Mayer threw another bombshell into 
the excited and harassed committee of the Comedie Fran9aise. 
If Sarah Bernhardt was not coming, they said, they did not want 
the troupe at all, and they hereby cancelled the contract ! 

The end of it was that Sarah obtained her full membership, 
as did Croizette, and the whole troupe embarked for London. 
The first man to greet her as she stepped ashore in England was 
Oscar Wilde. He became a great friend of Sarah's some years 
later — a friendship that only ceased with his downfall. 

Sarah's first visit to London was not the triumph which she 
had anticipated, though she had her share of the laurels. Her 
lodgings at ']'], Chester Square which were procured for her by 
William Jarrett, the impresario who later managed her tour of 
America, were crowded with celebrities, but they came out of 
curiosity and not to pay homage. 

Stories of her eccentricities had long been printed in England. 
She was looked upon as a wild woman, and her morals were much 
discussed and severely commented upon in staid London society. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 219 

Everything she did in London during this first visit evoked hostile 
comment. The papers praised her performances, but criticised 
her sensational appearances in society, into which she was intro- 
duced by Lady Dudley. 

Queen Victoria vetoed a suggestion that she should play 
in a State performance at Court. The Prince and Princess of 
Wales were not in London on this first occasion, and their tolerant 
influence did not make itself felt. 

Still, there was nothing definite against Sarah, except gossip, 
and so much was admitted everywhere. All fashionable London 
fell captive to her art on the stage of the Gaiety. The Times 
acclaimed her as the greatest emotional actress ever seen on an 
English stage. She made her London dehut in the second act of 
Phedre, into which she put so much of herself that after the 
performance she fainted from exhaustion and had to be carried 
home. " Such a scene of enthusiasm," wrote the Standard, 
" has rarely and perhaps never been witnessed in an English 

Meanwhile, a tremendous campaign was going on against her 
in the Paris newspapers. They said that by her eccentric actions 
she had disgraced the Comedie Frangaise abroad, and brought 
dishonour on her country. It was a despicable campaign, and was 
founded on practically nothing. But her enemies in Paris were 
determined to make hay while the cat was away, if I may be 
pardoned for mixing up two proverbs. 

Gladstone, who was much struck by the charming and emo- 
tional French actress, introduced her to King Leopold of Belgium, 
who fell an utter slave to her beauty. She was seen with the 
Belgian monarch everywhere, and, as Leopold enjoyed probably 

220 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

the worst reputation of any prince in Europe, the fact that he was 
obviously enamoured of Sarah did not enhance her reputation. 

This incident, in fact, in Republican France, was only an added 
cause for dissatisfaction. Leopold was not liked in Paris, and he 
was barely tolerated in London ; yet Sarah seemed to find pleasure 
in his conversation and amusement in his company. He had, of 
course, the entree everywhere, and as often as not he appeared 
with Sarah, generally to the secret dismay of his hostess. 

There were houses in London at this period where certain 
representatives of royalty were looked at askance ; and this 
condition of affairs obtained also in many European capitals. 
When I was in Moscow I was amazed to find that there were 
several aristocratic but untitled families who would not have 
dreamed of receiving a Grand Duke into their homes. 

One of the rumours that gained particular credit in London 
was to the effect that Sarah smoked cigars. She received several 
boxes from male admirers ! 

Another story was that she paraded the streets dressed as 
a man. I doubt both of the stories myself — especially that as to 
the cigars, for Sarah never smoked at all — ^but they were widely 
credited in London, and those of the Paris newspapers that were 
hostile to the actress naturally seized on them and reprinted them 
with avidity. Editorials were published severely criticising her 
conduct, and these finally grew so numerous that Sarah decided 
to have done with them once and for all. 

She accordingly wrote a letter to Albert Wolff, the director of 
the Figaro, announcing that she had decided to resign from the 
Comedie Fran9aise. 

Nobody believed she would actually resign — she had threatened 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 221 

it too many times before' — but her announcement in the Figaro 
caused huge excitement. The Minister of Fine Arts telegraphed 
personally to Sarah demanding an explanation. Sarah disdained 
to reply. The Comedie troupe was recalled from London, and 
Sarah was warned not to play for a while, as the public, " after 
the things she had done in London," would be sure to hiss her. 
She insisted on playing, however, and was given an ovation. 
It was another triumph for her personality. But she had the 
critics against her en masse. 

A few weeks later Perrin refused to postpone the premiere 
of L'Aventuriere, in which Sarah was playing Clorinde, despite 
her statement that she was physically unable to act. The first 
night was a failure. Sarah was unanimously attacked in the 
newspapers, and this time, enraged at Perrin, she did 

She wrote her resignation, posted it, and then fled from Paris, 
so that no one could call her back. She was gone five weeks, and 
nobody knew her address. 

When she returned, she found Jarrett waiting for her with a 
new contract for London, to be followed by one for America. She 
accepted both, and returned to London with her own company. 
There the eccentricities of her previous visit were forgiven, and 
her triumph was complete until she made the serious mistake of 

taking her son to the home of Lord and Lady R , where she 

was invited to play. 

Lady R 's indignation at Sarah's daring action, though 

Sarah herself probably considered it nothing out of the ordinary, 
knew no bounds, and she gave secret instructions to her butler. 
This functionary advanced before Sarah into the huge ball-room. 

222 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

which was crowded with people distinguished in British society, 
and solemnly announced : 

" Mademoiselle Sarah Bernhardt and her son ! " 
After this she was, of course, unmercifully snubbed, and left 
in a rage ten minutes later. This was Sarah Bernhardt 's last 
appearance in British society until Queen Victoria, yielding to 
the entreaties of the Prince of Wales, lifted the ban and commanded 
her to give a performance of La Dame aux Camelias at 
Windsor Castle. 

But this recognition did not come until many long years 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 223 


" Enough of Sarah Bernhardt ! Now that she has finally left 
the Comedie Fran9aise, let us forget her ! " 

This was the slogan of Sarah's enemies in the year 1880. 
And many of her friends thought, with a sigh of relief, that they 
were to be spared for a little while, at any rate, the pain of the 
extraordinary publicity the actress provoked. 

Sarah was now thirty-six years old. Her son, Maurice, had 
reached his seventeenth year, and was already causing her a good 
deal of trouble, due to her eccentric way of bringing him up. 

She was original in her treatment of his childish faults. When 
he was six, he persisted in a habit of chewing the tips of his 
gloves, and no correction, apparently, could cure him of the habit. 
Exasperated, Sarah one day made him take a pair of gloves to 
the kitchen, fry them in butter, and eat them ! The cure proved 

I do not intend to devote much of this biography to Maurice 
Bernhardt. He is still alive, and I understand he is writing his 
own memoirs. It is my opinion, however, that it was not he 
himself but Sarah's own conception of the boon of motherhood 
which throughout her life was perhaps its outstanding influence. 

Maurice was a wilful, headstrong, nervous child ; strong for 
his size, and a handful for the various nurses who were engaged 
to look after him. 

224 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Sarah was stern with him at times, indulgent at others ; and 
she educated him to rely upon her, and never once, even in her 
old age, did she rely upon him. 

When he was twelve, Maurice was already quite a " man 
about town," preferring adult companionship and evincing 
precocious likes and dislikes. When he was fifteen, Sarah 
settled a large sum on him and before he was twenty his income 
from her was 60,000 francs annually. She always told her friends 
that she did not mind what he did with the money, so long as he 
dressed himself properly. 

Thus, almost from infancy, Maurice was accustomed to an 
amount of luxury that was far in advance of his mother's real 

The sole thing on which she insisted was that he should learn 
the art of fencing, so as to defend his life in case of a duel. This 
art, when once learned, got the youngster into several scrapes, 
which cost Sarah a good deal of money. 

As a small child Maurice appeared with Sarah on the stage on 
one or two occasions, but he evinced no great talent for the theatre. 
He also, when a young man, attempted the art of plajrwriting, 
assisted by his mother, but met with no greater success. In later 
years he tried to persuade his mother to make him general 
manager of the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre, in her stead. It was 
the only thing she ever denied him. 

Sarah's various studios and fiats were always filled with 
pictures of Maurice at all ages- — many of them being sketches or 
paintings by Sarah herself. 

So much for Maurice Bernhardt. He was an affectionate son, 
and if he has not been exceptionally useful during his long life, it 

Sarah Bernhardt in Adrienne Lecouvreur. 

p. 224. 


Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 225 

is the fault of his haphazard upbringing. He is now a father, a 
grandfather, a member of the best Paris clubs, a well-known figure 
in baccarat rooms and on race-courses, and he still maintains his 
excellent reputation as a swordsman. Sarah died in his arms. 

It was in 1880, before she left for her first American tour — 
in October of that year — that Sarah Bernhardt first organised a 
company of her own. This was placed by her under the paternal 
direction of Felix Duquesnel, Sarah's old friend at the Odeon, 
and consisted of nine artistes, who had been carefully selected for 
the purpose of supporting her on tour. They were Madame Kalb, 
Pierre Berton, Mary Jullien, Jeanne Bernhardt, Madame Devoyod, 
Jean Dieudonne, L. Talbot, J. Train and myself. I was, of course, 
the youngster of the troupe. 

Our repertoire at this time consisted of eight plays : Hernani, 
Froufrou, La Dame aux Camelias, Le Sphinx, L'Etrangere, La 
Princesse George, Adrienne Lecouvreur and Phedre. Let me 
now set forth the story of how La Dame aux Camelias, one of 
Sarah's greatest triumphs, proved a failure until she brought 
her own genius to bear on the play and transformed it into a 

La Dame aux Camelias, as a matter of fact, was in its 
original form written by Dumas fils after earnest consultation 
with Sarah, It was never played, however, and lay for some 
years neglected in a drawer. One day Dumas took it out and 
read a few pages of the second act to Sarah, for the purpose of 
eliciting her opinion on the piece. 

" Let me take it with me ! " she asked, and Dumas gave the 
manuscript to her. 

A few days later she brought it back to him with a third of 

226 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

it crossed out and corrected. New lines had been added to 
practically all the important passages, and part of the second act 
had been cut out entirely. 

" There ! " she told him. " Your play is better like that ! 
If you will revise it as I have marked the manuscript, I will 
play it and make it a success." 

" It is I who am the playwright and not you, mademoiselle ! " 
he said angrily. 

Bernhardt turned on her heel. 

" Very well ! " she flung at him over her shoulder ; "a day 
will come when you will beg me to produce your play ! " 

Dumas refused to be influenced by such criticism, and even- 
tually the play was produced, in a small way, at the Comedie, 
and then at another theatre, but had no success at either. Sarah's 
amendments and suggestions had been ignored. 

After Sarah had organised her own company, Pierre Berton 
one day went to her with the information that Dumas wished to 
see her. 

" What about ? " asked Sarah. 

" About a play called La Dame aux Camelias. We were 
reading it together last night and I believe it can be played by 
us with success. In fact, it is a play absolutely written for you ! " 

" Did you tell Dumas that ? " asked Sarah, grimly. 

" Yes." 

" What did he say ? " 

" He said that he agreed with me." 

" And that was all ? " 

" That was all — except that he asked that I should bring the 
matter to your attention." 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 227 

Sarah laughed. " I told Dumas that he would one day beg 
me to play this thing for him," she said, " and you may tell him 
that if he wants me to, he must do just that — beg ! " 

Berton must have taken the message diplomatically to Dumas, 
for the next day the latter was announced at Sarah's house, 

I was not present at the interview, but at the end of it Sarah 
informed us that La Dame aux Camelias was to be included in our 

Knowing Sarah's temperament and her obstinacy, I presume 
Dumas begged. At any rate, the book of the play, as it was placed 
in our hands shortly afterwards, contained all the original cor- 
rections which she had made and which Dumas had at first ignored. 

We produced La Dame (as it was always called) at Brussels, 
whither we had gone on the earnest representations of King 
Leopold, who was still greatly enamoured of Sarah. 

In Brussels La Dame obtained no success whatever. The 
Belgians much preferred Adrienne Lecouvreur and Frou- 
frou. It was in the last-named play that Sarah had scored her 
biggest success in London, on her second visit as an independent 
artiste. Sarcey, who had written what he called " Sarah's 
Epitaph " when she left the Comedie, saying that it was " time to 
send naughty children to bed," was compelled to make a special 
journey to London in order to write reviews of Sarah's extraordin- 
ary productions there. 

Instead of her light becoming dimmer, it blazed higher and 
higher with each month that separated her from her " im- 
prisonment " at the Comedie Frangaise. 

Yes . . . imprisonment was what Sarah considered it. 

" At last I am free and my own mistress," she said. " Perrin 

228 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

cannot make me work when I don't want to, and all the critics 
can go to the devil ! " 

It was predicted that the fine of one hundred thousand francs 
imposed on Sarah for breaking her contract with the Comedie 
would be a blow from which she would find it hard to 

" We shall hear less of our dear Sarah now ! She will go 
away and leave us in peace ! " wrote Paul de St. Victor, her 
ancient enemy of the Ruy Bias banquet. 

But instead of sinking under the blow, Sarah only worked the 
harder. She was absolutely tireless at this period. Her visits 
to London and to Brussels were organised chiefly to avoid the 
process-servers, who were hammering at the door of her house 
in Paris with blue papers ordering her to pay the hundred thousand 

Sarah had not then the money to pay her fine, but for one 
full year her creditors could not legally obtain a judgment against 
her by default (which would have meant the sacrifice of her house, 
and of all its treasures). So after they had made the customary 
three visits to her Paris home, had knocked thrice on the door, 
and had instituted condemnation proceedings, Sarah returned to 
Paris and set about organising a whirlwind tour of the provinces, 
to precede her departure for America. 

Sarah met the Prince and Princess of Wales at Brussels, and 
charmed and was charmed by them. They saw her in Frou- 
frou while the guests of the King and Queen of the Belgians. 
This was the beginning of a long and precious friendship between 
Sarah and the Princess (afterwards Queen Alexandra) which 
lasted until Sarah's death. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 229 

After Sarah's Brussels visit the Princess — who was by birth 
Danish, as everybody knows — obtained for us a Royal command 
to perform before the King and Queen of Denmark at Copenhagen. 
Five performances only were asked for, and for these Sarah 
demanded 120,000 francs and our expenses. The sum was 
immediately agreed to, 

Sarah did not like Denmark. She was in a bad humour 
throughout the visit. We were lent the Royal yacht, on which to 
make a trip on the fjords. It was a lovely day and I can hear 
still the beautiful voices of the Upsal Choir, blending so perfectly 
with the grandeur of the landscape. 

Vicomte de Bondy, an attach^ then at the French Legation, 
met us on the trip and begged me to introduce him to Sarah. 
I agreed, but when we approached her we were dismayed to hear 
her giving her opinion of the country to a friend, in no uncertain 

" Je m'enfiche de leur pays! lis m' emb Stent ! " she cried. 
The nearest translation to this, in English slang, would be : 
" I'm fed up with their country ! They bore me to death ! " 
Only the language was a trifle stronger ! 

When these phrases reached our ears the Vicomte stopped 
suddenly. Then he raised his hat, and turned on his 

" I do not think I want to meet your Sarah ! " he said shortly, 
and forthwith he disappeared from our party. 

I recounted the incident to Sarah the next day, as we 
sat on deck of a steamer which was carrying us back to 

230 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" And he was a Frenchman ! " she exclaimed. " Why, 
what you heard me say was nothing ! I said a great deal more to 
the Crown Prince, and he only laughed ! " 

Sarah's freedom of language was at times embarrassing. 

Baron Magnus, the then German Minister in Denmark, was 
an old inhabitant of Paris, and had known Sarah in the days 
before the war. But since 1870 Sarah could not bear to look at 
a German. 

When the baron got up at a banquet, therefore, and, raising 
a glass of champagne, jovially proposed her health, the actress 
could not restrain her anger. She sprang to her feet and raised 
her glass high in the air, to the astonishment of the King, the Queen 
and various other members of the Royal family who were seated 
round her^ — and probably, it must be admitted, to their secret 

" I accept your toast. Monsieur the Minister of Prussia," she 
cried, " but only on condition that you extend it to include the 
whole of La Belle France ! " 

Baron Magnus turned white. He could think of nothing to 
say, and he sat down. The band struck up the " Marseillaise " 
and then, courteously enough, considering what had passed, he 
got on his feet again. 

Long afterwards, he and Sarah became very good friends. 
But he never tired of telling the story of how Sarah had 
startled a King and Queen and humbled an Imperial 

On September 4, 1880, we left Paris on our first tour of the 
provinces under Duquesnel's managership. The tour, which 
lasted twenty-eight days, was a tremendous success, and in October, 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 231 

a few days after our return to Paris, Sarah left for America under 
Abbey's management. I did not go with her, my family being 
unwilling that I should make the journey before having completed 
my studies. 

232 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


As I said at the conclusion of the last chapter, I did not accom- 
pany Sarah Bernhardt on her first visit to the United States, 
and I can therefore give no first-hand impressions of the trip. 
What is more, she told me so much when she returned, and so 
mixed were her own impressions, that it is hard for me to say now 
whether she actually enjoyed her visit to the New World or not. 

" What a detestable country ! " she would say sometimes. 
" What a marvellous country ! " she would exclaim at others. 
Similar mixed conclusions are often brought back from America 
by visitors even now. 

She adored the scenery, the energy and the extravagance of 
the Americans, and she thought the American men perfect' — 
aU except the reporters. But she hated the American women — 
and she hated most of them until she died. 

" Their voices ! " she would exclaim, and shudderingly put 
both hands to her ears. " Quelle horreur ! " 

When she opened in New York, one of her most expensive 
costumes, she told me, was completely ruined by women visiting 
her in her dressing-room, who insisted on fondling it and exclaim- 
ing over its rich embroidery. 

During her visit to London, in the June of the year when she 
first went to America, she met Henry Irving. 

" They tell me, madame, that you are going to the United 
States ? " said Irving. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 233 

" Yes," said Sarah. " I must make money, and the Americans 
seem to have it all ! " Even at this period that was the generally 
accepted idea ! 

" Madame," said Irving, " what you say saddens me extremely ! 
America is a country of barbarians ! They know nothing about 
the theatre, and yet they presume to dictate to us ! If I were 
you I would not go to America, madame ! What you will gain 
in doUars, you will lose in heart-throbs at their ignorance of your 
art ! " 

Irving himself, however, went to America a few years later. 

Sarah brought back from the United States six hundred 
thousand francs, a variety of animals— including a lynx, which 
bit her chambermaid and had to be killed a week after its arrival 
in Paris — a profound respect for American enterprise, and the 
reputation she had long been hoping to make for La Dame aux 

When Alexandre Dumas was told of her intention to play 
La Dame in New York he cried disgustedly : " That's it ! 
Try my play on the barbarians ! " 

As a matter of fact. Booth's Theatre, where Sarah opened in 
America, was filled on the first night with almost the entire 
French colony in New York, which was a considerable one. 
Practically the only Americans there were the critics, and a few 
wealthy society people who held regular boxes. The play chosen 
for the first night was Adrienne Lecouvreur. 

The next day Abbey, the impresario, rushed into Sarah's 
bedroom' — Sarah usually received her business folk in the morning 
while still in bed- — waving a bundle of papers. His face wore th§ 
Ipok of one stricken by some grievous blow, 

234 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Stopping short, he gave Sarah a look of indescribable anguish, 
and then sat abruptly down and mopped his face. He could not 

Sarah sat up in bed, fright on her countenance. 

" What is it ? What is it ? The theatre has been burned 
down, and my costumes are destroyed ? " 

" No," said Abbey, " but your reputation is ! " 

The American papers, without exception, said that Sarah 
Bernhardt was a magnificent actress, but that her rdpertoire 
was filled with plays which should never be shown on the American 
stage. " They are doubtless considered all right in immoral 
Paris," said the Glohe, " but they will certainly only succeed in 
disgusting Americans." 

And they proceeded to tear poor Adrienne Lecouvreur to 
pieces ! A highly improper play, they said, and one which should 
never be given in the presence of American women. One paper 
seriously advised the police to descend on the theatre, close the 
performances, " arrest this woman, and send her back to France." 

Sarah was bewildered. She had played Adrienne in Paris, 
in London, in Brussels and in Copenhagen, and everywhere it 
had been met with tremendous applause. This was her first 
experience of American methods. 

The fact of the matter was that only one of the critics present 
at the opening night knew French, and they gathered quite 
wrong impressions from the few words they did understand. The 
play, given at full length in a word for word English translation, 
would doubtless have been insufferably vulgar. In French, it 
was whimsical, delightful in its irony, and entirely free from any- 
thing objectionable whatsoever. The American critics, however, 


Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 235 

could not understand the subtlety of the lines, and they gathered 
their opinions solely from the action. 

The manager of the theatre followed Abbey into Sarah's bed- 
room. He wore a strained, a hunted look. 

" You have seen the newspapers ? " he asked Abbey. 

" Yes ! " Consternation was in the eyes of all three. 

" What shall we do ? " inquired Abbey, at last. 

" There is only one thing to do — we must choose another 
repertoire! They will have us arrested soon, if this keeps 

" But that is ridiculous ! " angrily said Sarah. " Never 
before in my life have I been so insulted ! I will either play 
La Dame aux Camelias to-night, or I will pack up and return to 
France by the next boat ! " 

The two men cried out in protest. 

" You can't do that ! " said Abbey. " There must be some 
way out of the difficulty ! " 

" I shall play La Dame aux Camelias to-night, as arranged ! " 
said Sarah, as if this was the last word on the subject. 

Abbey and the manager of Booth's Theatre took their 
departure, after arguing with her for some time, but in vain. 

" She will do it ! " said Abbey, with conviction. " When 
Sarah Bernhardt m.akes up her mind, heaven and earth cannot 
change it." 

" But we must do something ! " said the manager, in despair. 

" I have it ! " exclaimed Abbey. " We will play La Dame, 
but we will call it something else. They will never know the 

When Sarah Bernhardt arrived at the theatre that night, she 

236 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

was astounded to see huge red placards outside, announcing that 
she would play Camille. 

She rushed to Jarrett, the first man she met on the stage. 

" What is it, this Camille ? " she exclaimed furiously, 
" I know no Camille ! " 

" Oh yes, you do," said Jarrett, smiling urbanely. " Cam- 
ille is- — La Dame ! " 

" Oh ! " cried Sarah, and burst into uncontrollable laughter. 

The theatre was packed to the roof, this time with a most 
representative crowd of Americans. The publicity of the morn- 
ing had done its work. Sarah Bernhardt was playing immoral 
pieces ? Well, New York didn't know what to do about it, 
but New York decided to go and see for itself. 

This sort of theatrical psychology is now a well-understood 
thing. Even in Paris, when a revue is not making expenses, they 
bribe the police to make a complaint about the immorality of 
one of the scenes — and then its success is assured. But it was the 
first time such a thing had been known in America, 

New York liked Camille — it liked it enormously ! 

The critics were not fools, though. Every paper announced 
the next day that Camille was in reality La Dame aux Camelias, 
but with an American name !■ 

They also said that the play had been forbidden in London 
by Queen Victoria, which was true ; and were very severe on 
the " prudish Queen " for her " narrow-mindedness." Com- 
pletely forgetting their fulminations of only twenty-four hours 
before, they said that it was an unthinkable crime that such a 
beautiful play should ever have been banned anywhere. It was 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 237 

rather " Frenchy," they admitted, but Sarah's magnificent acting 
more than made up for that. 

Sarah Bernhardt made more than a dozen tours in America, 
and Camille was invariably her greatest success there. It 
broke all records for receipts in New York City. 

The reputation of the play crossed the Atlantic before Sarah 
did. Alexandre Dumas did not know whether to be delighted or 
dismayed. The " barbarians " had liked his play ! 

The success of La Dame in America encouraged Sarah to 
give it a fair trial in France, and elsewhere in Europe. Even- 
tually it became, after Phedre and Le Passant, her greatest 
success. Even L'Aiglon — another play which received its 
original baptism of success in the United States — could not rival 
it in popularity. 

All of which may go to show that American audiences have 
a better sense of the dramatic than have audiences in Europe — 
or it may not ! 

After witnessing a performance of Le Sphinx, which also 
obtained an enormous success in New York, Commodore Vander- 
bilt, who was then at the hey-day of his power in New York, 
but was not yet accepted in society because of his bluff and hearty 
— ^not to say indifferent — manners, was announced to Sarah in 
her dressing-room. She had heard of this remarkable man, and 
was anxious to meet him. Her account of the conversation, which 
took place through an interpreter, was amusing. 

" His first words to me " (said Sarah) " were, ' You are a Jewess, 
aren't you, madame ? ' 

" I was offended at his manner, and replied frigidly, ' No, 
monsieur, I am a Catholic ! ' 

238 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" ' That's peculiar,' said Vanderbilt, ' I heard you were a 
Jewess. However, it don't matter. I came to present my respects. 
You're the only woman who ever made me cry ! ' 

" I laughed — nobody could resist him. ' Yep, by gorry,' 
went on the multi-millionaire, ' you made me cry ! An' I've 
taken a box for every night you are billed to play ! ' " 

He kept his word. Looking across the footlights, night after 
night, throughout twenty-three performances, Sarah never failed 
to see Vanderbilt in his box. Every time he saw her looking at 
him, he took out a gigantic handkerchief and solemnly wiped his 
eyes. When she left New York, he was among those who saw 
her off on the boat. 

" Ma'am," he said, " I'd like to give you a present. What 
would you like the most ? " 

Some women, hearing such an avowal from a multi-million- 
aire, would have thought of jewels. But Sarah was more original. 

" Give me your handkerchief ! " she replied promptly. 

Vanderbilt was much taken aback, but took out his handker- 
chief and gave it to her. 

Sarah thanked him. " I shall keep this always," she told 
him, " in memory of the time I made Vanderbilt cry ! " 

When she got back to Paris, she had it framed and hung on 
the wall of her boudoir, but on one of the several occasions that 
her furniture was seized for debt, she lost it, and Vanderbilt 
had meanwhile died. 

Theodore Roosevelt, then a very young man, was another of 
those who met Sarah Bernhardt during her first visit to New York. 
He was a firm friend of hers until he died, and invariably visited 
her when he was on one of his trips abroad. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 239 

A letter from Roosevelt, extolling her genius, was one of the 
few she kept and had framed. It hung until the day of her death 
in the little ante-chamber outside her bedroom. 

In this letter the former President said in one passage : 
" I have altered my plans so as to arrive in Paris after you return 
from Spain. I could not come to Paris and miss seeing my oldest 
and best friend there." 

During her tour of America in 1892, Sarah had dinner with 
Roosevelt, and she loved to recount the experience to her friends 
on her return to Paris. 

" An unforgettable character ! " she would say, and then 
would add : " Ah, but that man and I, we could rule the world ! " 

They came near to doing it, he on one side as President of the 
United States, and she, on the other, as the uncrowned Queen of 

Booth, James Hubbard, James Wilcox and James K. Hackett 
were other Americans whom Sarah counted among her warmest 
friends. Hackett represented the American stage at her funeral. 

It has often been commented upon that Sarah Bernhardt 
never had an American lover. I heard her speak of this one day 
with regret. 

" I am sure the Americans must be great lovers," she said ; 
" they are so strong, so primitive, and so childish in their ardoiu. 
The English are wonderful men to love, because they possess 
the faculty of bending one to their likes, dislikes and moods 
without seeming to make it an imposition ; but the Americans 
are greater, for they bend themselves to suit you." 

This absence of Americans in Sarah's sentimental life is best 
explained by the short duration of each of her tours of America 

240 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

and the distances covered during them. Many towns in America 
saw Sarah only for twenty-four hours, and the whole period was 
a ceaseless whirl of arriving, rehearsing, playing and departing. 
She was a genius at organisation and insisted on attending to the 
larger details of her tours herself. 

After three weeks in America, Sarah learned sufficient English 
to know the simpler expressions, and before 1895 she spoke it 
very well. On her tours in America she invariably travelled by 
special train, the " Sarah Bernhardt Special," but this was not 
by her own arrangement, and she did not like it. 

" They will not put one's special coaches on the fast trains," 
she explained, " and at night they back one's car into a siding, 
where one is kept awake by the noise of the goods trains being 
made up, shunting, arriving and departing." 

On her last two visits to America she did not use either a 
special train or a special car, but travelled in drawing-room 
sleepers. She said she found it easier and " beaucoup plus 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 241 


Sarah's first tour of the United States and Canada occupied 
seven months, during which she visited fourteen states and four 
provinces, played in more than fifty theatres and appeared before 
the public more than 150 times. 

When she returned to France, warships fired salutes, the entire 
city of Havre was beflagged and illuminated, and some of the 
most distinguished persons in France were on the quay to greet 

She had departed an enfant terrible, to use the mot of Sarcey ; 
she returned an idol, feverishly acclaimed. Enfin, France was 
once more to salute its Sarah ! 

Never before had any woman become such an entirely national 
character. Others had risen to similar artistic greatness — 
Rachel was probably as great a tragedienne as was Sarah at this 
epoch, and Sarah always declared that never in her life had she 
attained the sublime heights of Rachel's art' — but none had become 
at the same time a popular figure amongst the masses, to whom 
actresses until now had always seemed beings apart. 

The theatre has always been a cult in France, much more so 
than in any other nation, but in the sixties and seventies it was a 
cult practised only by the few who possessed the requisite educa- 
tion to understand the difficult verse, the delightful satire, the 

242 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

delicate irony of the poets whose work then constituted nine- 
tenths of the plays performed. Or, on the other hand, there were 
the so-called popular theatres, but these were vulgar burlesques 
of what the popular theatre is to-day. 

It was Sarah Bernhardt, more than anyone else, who trans- 
formed, with her magic touch, the theatre in France from the 
superior, intellectual toy of the cultured few to the amusement 
and recreation of the many. This she accomplished not only 
by her insistence on dramatic values, as much as on literary 
excellence — on scenic perfection as much as on the handling of 
phrases — but by her own personal genius in finding the " common 

When she returned from the United States, it was to find 
preparations being made for her to play Theodora, the new 
play by Victorien Sardou, who was just then coming to the fore. 
But several other matters intervened. 

First, she fell in love with Philippe Garnier, an actor of con- 
siderable talent ; secondly, Gamier persuaded her to make a 
Grand Tour of Europe ; thirdly, she was introduced to Jules 
Paul Damala, who took her away from Garnier and made her his 
wife ; fourthly, Victorien Sardou, on the advice of Pierre Berton, 
withdrew his offer asking her to play Theodora and suggested 
that instead she should play Feodora, an older play by him and 
one well-tried by public favour. 

These events tumbled one after another into the life of Sarah 
Bernhardt, and all had their influence on it. 

She first became really intimate with Philippe Garnier at 
a banquet given to celebrate her return. I remember that 
Sarah gave a demonstration at this banquet of how the 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 243 

Americans ate with their knives and fingers, and kept us 
all convulsed by her description of American food. 

" Mon ami," she said to the actor Decori, who sat next me, 
" you would not believe it — the Americans never take more than 
a quarter of an hour to dine, and they eat in whichever order the 
cook has prepared the dishes. If the fruit is ready, then they eat 
that first ! Ugh ! It was terrible ! " She shuddered. 

The American cuisine was always one of Sarah's pet abomina- 
tions, and on other visits to the United States she was careful to 
take her own cook as well as a supply of food, wines and condi- 
ments. When Edison invited her in 1890 to one of his country 
houses, she is said to have arrived there with a cook of her own 
and an entire kitchen staff ! 

Though Sarah herself liked to make fun of the Americans, 
she never allowed anyone else to do so ; and when Dore, who 
had visited America, related a humorous anecdote somewhat too 
cutting in its sarcasm, Sarah caught him up sharply. Dore 
replied with equal acerbity, and it was Garnier who distinguished 
himself by leaping into the breach and smoothing down the 
ruffled feathers of the two friends. 

Sarah noticed him, began an animated conversation with him, 
and found him spirituel — in the French sense of the word — ^well- 
informed and charming. She invited him to call and see her. 

He called frequently, and a week later was made a star 
member of Sarah's company. It was Garnier who insisted that 
she should exploit the publicity gained from her American tour 
by undertaking at once another whirlwind tour of Europe, this 
time going as far as Russia. 

The prospect appealed to Sarah, but she was tired and not 

244 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

over-anxious to undertake the monumental work of organising 
such an expedition. So Garnier did this for her, and within two 
months had the itinerary completed. 

In the meantime Sarah had made a most tragic acquaintance 
— that of Damala. 

This man was a Greek, of good family, who had originally 
been destined for diplomacy, and had come to France to 
pursue his studies. In Paris he had rapidly acquired the reputa- 
tion of being the " handsomest man in Europe." 

He was tall, physically of classic beauty, and with a passionate, 
Oriental face, which was dominated by a pair of warm brown 
eyes, shielded by lashes of girlish length. 

" The ' Diplomat Apollo ' was the name by which he was 
jocularly known among his friends ; and jealous husbands and 
lovers talked of him as the most dangerous man in Paris. 

He had had numerous affairs before he met and fell in love, 
after his Oriental fashion, with Sarah Bernhardt. One was with 
the wife of Paul Meissonnier, a Parisian banker, whose reputation 
he had ruined to the extent of forcing her to leave France. 

Another was with the daughter of a Vaucluse magistrate, 
who left her parents and a comfortable home to follow Damala 
to Paris, where he deserted her when her baby was born. This 
girl wrote a book exposing Damala, after he had married Sarah 
Bernhardt, but the book was suppressed. I never heard what 
became of her. Perhaps the Seine could tell. 

Young, beautiful and a dare-devil, Damala, when he met 
Bernhardt, was a figure to delight the gods of evil. There was no 
vice to which he was not addicted, no evil thing which he would 
not attempt. His Oriental parties, at which those taking part 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 245 

divested themselves of their clothing and plunged naked into 
baths of champagne, were the talk of Paris. 

It was inevitable that Bernhardt, the famous actress, and 
Damala, the almost equally notorious bon viveur, should eventually 
meet. Each knew the reputation of the other, and their curiosity 
was only the more whetted thereby. 

Each delighted to play with fire, and especially with the 
dangerously devastating fire which smoulders eternally within 
the human soul. 

Bernhardt prided herself on her ability to conquer men, to 
reduce them to the level of slaves ; Damala vaunted his ability 
as a hunter and a spoiler of women. 

No man, said Bernhardt, could long resist her imperious will ; 
no woman, said Damala, could long remain impervious to his 
fatal charm- — and to prove it he would exhibit with pride the 
clattering bones in his closet. 

Like grains of mercury in a bowl of sand, their two natures 
were inevitably attracted towards each other. Both were serenely 
confident of the issue of that coming clash of wills, 

Damala boasted to his friends that, as soon as he looked at 
her, the great Sarah Bernhardt would be counted on his long list 
of victims ; and Bernhardt was no less certain that she had only 
to command for Damala to succumb. 

She was all woman, feline in her charm and attraction for 
men, but herculean in the labour which was in reality the greater 
half of her life. Damala was only half a man ; he had the exterior, 
the sexual attraction of one, but he lacked the vital power to 
live and to endure by the labour of his hands and brain. 

He was beautiful and brilliant, but only the shell was left 

246 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

of his manhood, which he had burned out years before his time, 
for he was younger than Sarah by three years. Sarah, despite 
all the marvellous things which she had already accomplished, 
had the best of her span of life before her. Damala was indolent, 
unambitious except as regards women, hot-headed, quick to take 
up an insult, and an unscrupulous fiend when his passions were 
aroused. He had the presence and manners of a gentleman and 
the mind of a chimpanzee. 

Even before he met Sarah, Damala was a victim to the vice 
of morphine, and in that curious strata of society which is com- 
posed of drug-takers, he met Jeanne Bernhardt, Sarah's sister, 
who had no right to the name, but who had assumed it at the 
behest of their mother. 

Jeanne had succumbed to morphine before she was twenty-five. 
She had followed Sarah's footsteps into the theatre, but she had 
none of the talent of her great half-sister, nor had she the beauty, 
despite her early promise. 

She was a peculiar-looking woman, with dark hair, a thin face, 
deep green pools for eyes, a weak chin and uncertain mouth. 
She could fill a small part in a play, with the aid of Sarah's care- 
ful coaching, but she could not be depended upon ; and at times, 
under the influence of her special drug, would commit the worst 
blunders. On more than one occasion she had almost ruined a 

Poor Jeanne ! She had much that was good in her. She loved 
Sarah with a passion which was extraordinary, to say the least, 
considering the earlier lack of devotion to one another that 
characterised the household of Julie Bernard. 

That poor lady was now dead, at the age of fifty-one. She 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 247 

had lived long enough, however, to see her unwanted child rise 
to heights of fame that were almost dizzy, when regarded from 
her own comparatively small eminence of beauty and coquette. 

The baby she had left to the tender mercies of a concierge's 
wife, and all but abandoned ; the thin, delicate child who 
had wanted to be a nun, and whom she had never really 
imderstood ; that being whom she had created, fruit of perhaps 
the only genuine passion of her empty life, had become the 
favourite toast of the world, the darling of two hemispheres, with 
kings paying homage to her beauty and her art. 

It is to be doubted whether Julie ever really understood the 
miracle that had happened. It is to be doubted also whether she 
ever credited Sarah with the genuine greatness that was hers. 
Almost to the day of her death, in fact, she was steadily lamenting 
her daughter's extravagances and eccentricities — she, of all women, 
whose foibles had once shocked the gayest city in the world ! 

It takes a strong will and a cool head to survive the fast life 
of the theatre, especially when that life is lived as Sarah Bern- 
hardt lived it. Though Sarah might appear strong ; though her 
constitution, which had once been delicate, might now seem to 
be made of spun steel, in reality she was still delicate — extremely 
so. It was her will that triumphed, the will to accomplish, to 
create, to live — the will which is another name for genius. 

But little Jeanne, the centre of her mother's fond hopes, had 
neither strength of body nor power of will. She had not genius, 
only a facility for mimicry. The life that sustained and ex- 
hilarated Sarah, ruined and finally killed her. 

Sarah's feeling for Jeanne was the pity which is akin to love, 
and not the sisterly devotion she might have felt had her earlier 

248 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

history been less unfortunate. She helped the girl all she could, 
saw that she had work, and that she was able to earn sufficient 
money. She took her to America, in the hope that travel and 
the change into a newer, freer atmosphere would work the miracle 
she so ardently desired. 

Sarah's hatred for drugs was one of the abiding passions of 
her life. She herself had such an unquenchable spirit within her 
that she could not imagine the plight of those who were compelled 
to indulge a fanciful morbidity with such artificial stimulants. 

Once, shortly after discovering that her half-sister was taking 
morphine, she thrashed Jeanne with a riding- whip and locked her in 
her bedroom. There for four days she kept her a prisoner, denying 
her both food and drug in an imscientific attempt to tame her 
desires, which, of course, ended in failure. Despite all Sarah's 
efforts, Jeanne slipped gradually down the hill and into the pit 
which is the inevitable fate of those who seek the bliss of this 
artificial paradise. 

Morphine had come into general use as a medicine during the 
war of 1870, and many doctors and soldiers had learned to listen 
to its dangerous appeal. They taught its use to their women, and 
the alleged miracles worked by the drug became noised abroad. 
Its use became almost fashionable ! 

People who frequented the salons took it shamelessly, just 
as anyone else would take a glass of champagne. It was said that 
opium dulled your cares and finally made you forget them, but 
that morphine kept you conscious of them and actually made you 
enjoy them ! 

Jeanne and Damala were members of a group of morphine- 
takers connected with the stage, who made no secret of their 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 249 

vice. Damala was a fair amateur actor — it was in this direction 
and not diplomacy that his ambitions lay — and delighted to 
frequent the coulisses (as the French term the wings), the Green 
Room, and the other mysterious haunts which lie behind the 
footlights. Many were his victories in this half -world of 
pleasure and of work. 

When Jeanne spoke of Damala to Sarah, the latter felt herself 
repelled and yet fascinated. Outwardly she denounced him, but 
inwardly she was enormously interested in this notorious man, 
and longed to meet him. 

Unconscious of the insidious spell that was at work, enchain- 
ing their two destinies, Sarah privately determined to see this 
arrogant monster, this darling of the drawing-rooms, this man 
who was called the handsomest being since Apollo. 

They met finally at the house of a friend who was curious to 
see what they would do when brought together. 

250 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


This meeting of Sarah Bernhardt, then the greatest feminine 
personality in Europe, and Damala, who was to be the central 
figure of the most tragic episode of her life, will remain in my 
memory for ever. 

They were introduced by a mutual friend. 

" Damala ? " said Sarah, raising her eyebrows, and affecting 
an ignorance of his name which was in the circumstances really 

" Bernhardt ? " replied Damala, in similar accents. 

It was flint on stone. 

" Sir ! " exclaimed the dismayed hostess, " you are addressing 
the greatest actress in France ! " 

" And I," said Damala, in a sceptically belittling manner, " am 
therefore the greatest man in France ! " 

Bernhardt shrugged her shoulders at this insolence. 

" You do not interest me, monsieur ! " she said, turning away. 

" Wait," said Damala, " you have not heard all. I am also 
the wickedest man in Paris." 

" You sound to me," replied Sarah, " a fool, and the poorest 
boaster I have ever met ! " And she left him. 

He laughed, and the laughter reached her. It struck straight 
at her most vulnerable trait — ^her vanity 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 251 

A man had laughed at Sarah Bernhardt ! More, he was laugh- 
ing still ! It was incredible ! 

Yet it was so, and the memory of that laugh, and of the pas- 
sage of arms which had preceded it, lingered with her. She was 
piqued. For the first time in her experience she had met a man 
who would not humble himself before her. 

Sarah was now negotiating for the purchase of the Porte 
St. Martin theatre, which she proposed to place under the direc- 
tion of her young son, Maurice Bernhardt. In this capacity, 
as a possible purchaser, she came face to face with Damala, who 
had been waiting for her in the theatre. 

Sarah would have swept by him, but he stepped in front. 

" I have brought you a present ! " he said, and held out a 
bouquet of beautiful lilies-of-the-valley — for it was Springtime, 
the fete of muguet. This flower is supposed in France to be 
a symbol of good fortune, and many a forlorn lover makes up 
a quarrel with his sweetheart, on the first of May, by presenting 
her with a tiny bundle of muguet. 

Sarah looked at him, astonished. Here was a new Damala ! 

But the Greek quickly disillusioned her. 

" I give it to you," he said, " because you will need it — with 
me! " 

This was even greater insolence than he had shown before. 
Sarah was angry, mortified — and interested. Within a week she 
confounded her friends by accepting an invitation to dine with 
Damala alone. 

Although his family in Athens had destined him for the dip- 
lomatic service, his own private ambition was to be an actor. 
As I have said, he was an amateur comedian of no small merit. 

252 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

and when Sarah discovered this she invited him to become a 
member of her company. 

He accepted at once, but his family intervened and — a curious 
case of history repeating itself — had him sent on a diplomatic 
mission to Russia, whither young de Lagrenee had gone a few 
years before. 

Sarah was now all ready to depart on her Grand Tour of 
Europe, during which she was to visit all the principal capitals 
and was to give performances literally before " all the crowned 
heads." In fact, many of those crowned heads were destined before 
long seriously to feel her powers of attraction. 

She had already included in her itinerary Spain, Italy, Aus- 
tria, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It was 
an enormous undertaking, having regard to difficulties of transport 
at that time, when the train services in many countries were the 
worst imaginable. On this tour, I was again included in her 

When Damala went to Russia, he begged her to follow, and 
as her itinerary included Denmark, it was not difficult for her to 
arrange to go from there to Reval, and thence to St. Petersburg. 
Russia had always possessed an enormous attraction for her. 

Voluminous descriptions of this tour have already been 
given, and I shall not therefore say much about it, except as 
regards Sarah personally. 

In Lisbon, the actor Decor i jumped into the first place in 
Sarah's affections, and Decori was extremely jealous of another 
actor named Dumeny, because he had a better part in the piece. 

During the rehearsals for L'Aveu, however, Decori pre- 
tended to be a great friend of Dumeny 's, and carried him off every 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 253 

day on fishing trips. As a consequence, Dumeny did not properly 
learn his part, and his performance on the opening night was 

Sarah called him into her dressing-room for an hour, and gave 
him one of the most frightful reprimands I have ever heard. It 
was devastating. When Dumeny came out, he was pale and 
trembling like a leaf. 

That night the company were the guests of the well-known 
de Rosas at a formal banquet, and one of the hosts proposed a 
toast to the French artistes. 

Sarah sprang to her feet and pointed a shaking finger at her 
unfortunate subordinate Dumeny, who was sitting quietly at one 
end of the table with his wife. 

" Ah, no ! " she cried, " I will not drink }our toast if it in- 
cludes that pig there ! When I play with him, I never have any 
applause ! " 

There was a dead silence for a few moments, and then Dumeny, 
very pale and with tears in his eyes, rose and left the room, followed 
by his wife. We drank the toast. 

The next day Sarah bore down on Dumeny in the middle of 
rehearsals and exclaimed heartily : " Ah, my little cabbage ! " — 
and kissed him on the cheek ! 

In Madrid I was asked to play the part of Nanine in La Dame 
aux Camelias. The Theatre de I'Opera at Madrid is an immense 
building, and the area at the back of the stage is a perfect wilder- 
ness of gangways, passages, and turnings between the different 
sets. It was difficult even for the habitues of the theatre to find 
their way about. As for myself, I never did learn the quickest 
way from one side of the stage to the other, when a scene was 

254 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

being played. The distance seemed tremendous, and one was 
always tripping over something. 

I was supposed to make my exit by one door and to re-appear 
at another one, where I was to knock and say a certain line 
loudly — I have forgotten the exact words. 

I made my exit safely enough, but in running round to the 
other door I lost my way, missed my cue, and, rendered nervous 
at the prospect of Sarah's wrath, entered without saying the line. 
As I did so, Sarah darted a furious look at me, and I realised 
that she had already explained my absence in such a way that 
my appearance created a comic situation. The audience was 

In the last act Sarah " died " and it was my duty to pass a 
garment over her. This was the first time I had been close to 
her since my faux pas of the third act. 

Suddenly, as she sank with glazing eyes on her couch, I was 
amazed to hear her launch into a perfect stream of low-toned 
vituperation, directed at myself. 

Her breast heaved, her breath came in short gasps. Sarah 
Bernhardt was " dying " in one of the most magnificent scenes she 
ever played. Her lips moved — and it is fortunate that the audience 
could not hear what they said ! 

They said, in fact : " You ugly cow ! You have spoiled every- 
thing by your clumsiness ! This is not the proper garment ! " 

And, in truth, I discovered to my horror that it wasn't ! 
I was in such a nervous state that I had chosen the wrong robe. 
However, I am certain that nobody except Sarah, not even the 
others in the company, noticed the fact. But, added to my previous 
grave fault, this error was enough for her. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 255 

She kept up her great death scene, taking twice as long as usual, 
because she kept on thinking of new reproaches to hurl at me. 
What reproaches they were, too ! My ears burned. My cheeks 
were tingling with indignation. 

Finally, when she uttered a really outrageous insult — it was 
with her supposedly last breath that she said it- — I leaned down, 
and, making the motions of intense and tearful grief, hissed 
between my sobs : 

" You say another word and I'll smack your face here on the 
stage ! " 

I meant it, too, and Sarah must have seen that I did, for she 
" died " properly this time, and never pronounced another word. 

And all this while there was the audience out in the mistiness 
beyond, tense and grief-stricken, held by the marvellous acting 
of the great tragedienne on her stage death-bed ! 

In Vienna the Archduke Frederick put one of his palaces at 
Sarah's disposal, and in appreciation of his act of courtesy we 
gave a special performance for him, to which all the ladies of 
the Court were invited. The Emperor was away, or ill — I 
forget which. 

The last act in La Dame aux Camelias, the very one which 
I have just been describing, made such an impression on one of 
these ladies, a beautiful Hungarian, that she fainted dead away 
and had to be carried out of the theatre. 

" Had I been a woman I would have fainted too ! " said the 
Archduke, when Sarah expressed her regret at the occurrence. 

He gave her an emerald pendant, set in natural gold which had 
been obtained from a mine on his estate near Bugany in Hungary. 
For a long time Sarah wore this emerald more prominently than 

256 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

any other jewel. Finally it went the way of most of her 
precious possessions. Sarah gave out that it had been " lost." 
Perhaps it had been, but I think I know the man who found it- — 
and who paid Sarah handsomely for the privilege ! 

We were asked to play in Prague, but Sarah had refused to 
go there, as she had refused to go to Berlin. A few years later, 
in fact, she declined an offer of one million marks to play in Berlin. 
" Never among those swine ! " she would say. 

Eventually however' — some sixteen years later I believe' — 
Sarah appeared in Berlin and secured triumph. Germany, as 
I have stated in an earlier chapter, acclaimed her as one of the 
Fatherland's own children. 

Finally, after returning to France through Switzerland, we 
went to Holland, and from there to the Baltic states. We played 
in Stockholm, Christiania and Copenhagen. Our greatest recep- 
tion was in Stockholm, where Sarah became an idol of the people. 
I have always thought that the Swedes understand dramatic art 
better than any other nation except the French. 

We passed through Finland, but did not play there, Sarah 
was anxious to get to St. Petersburg, where a grandiose demon- 
stration and welcome, not to mention Damala, awaited her. 

Word came that the Tsar was to command a performance in 
the Winter Garden, and the whole company was tremendously 
excited. None of us had ever seen the Tsar. But so many 
stories had reached us about him that, in our imaginations, he 
had become a sort of god. Tales of the munificence of his enter- 
tainments, the sumptuousness of his Court, the power that he 
wielded, had combined to weave about his person a truly romantic 
glamour. And we were to play before this mighty personage ! 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 257 

But Sarah was not thrilled' — at least, not in anticipation of 
playing before the Tsar, She might have been, and probably 
was, thrilled at the prospect of again meeting Damala, the one 
man who had met and vanquished her with her own weapons. 

And, when we actually saw the Great White Tsar, we felt the 
edge taken off our thrill, too. He was the most insignificant 
looking monarch in all Europe ! 


258 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


We made our entry into St. Petersburg under the most pro- 
pitious conditions. The sun was smiling, and the effect on 
the towers, domes and spires of Russia's wonderful city was 
indescribably lovely. The Nevski Prospekt was a never- 
to-be-forgotten sight, with its splendid shops, its magnificent 
palaces, and its succession of fashionable people in their smart 

Rooms had been reserved for us at the Hotel du Nord, but 
on arriving there we found that it had not sufficient accommoda- 
tion for all of us, so a part of the company, amongst them myself, 
went on to the European. 

Being extremely tired after the long journey, I went straight 
to my room to get some sleep, though it was only four o'clock in 
the afternoon. I was awakened by a knock on the door. I lit 
the gas, and found that the clock said midnight. Who could 
be knocking on the door at that unearthly hour ? 

It was a maid, with a message from Hugette Duflos, one of 
the women members of the company, who had remained at the 
Hotel du Nord. 

" Sarah is ill and wants you," the message said. 

I dressed at once, and asked the maid whether a conveyance 
could be found to take a very young girl in safety through the 
streets at night. The maid laughed. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 259 

" Oh, yes ! " she answered. " Evidently madame is not 
acquainted with our customs ! This is tea-time ! " 

" Tea-time ! " At midnight ! I must have looked incredu- 
lous, for the maid went on to explain : 

" Fashionable people do not rise until twelve o'clock in St. 
Petersburg, and the shops and restaurants therefore keep open 
very late. When you are having your supper in Paris, we in 
Russia are taking our tea ! " 

Going out into the brilliantly-lighted streets I saw that she was 
right. They were alive with people, and most, if not all, the shops 
and of course the restaurants were open. It was a novel scene 
that amused and enchanted me. 

We arrived in a few minutes at the Hotel du Nord, and there 
another surprise awaited me. Sarah Bernhardt herself, accom- 
panied by none other than Jacques Damala, advanced to meet 
me. Right and left were other members of the company, arriving 
in a similar state of bewilderment. 

" We are going to have a real Russian party ! " announced 

" But — I thought you were ill ? " I said. 

" Just an excuse — to get you out of bed, ma petite ! " she said, 
to my astonishment. " I knew all of you were so tired that you 
would never get up for a mere invitation to a party, so I invented 
the excuse that I was ill ! " 

Some of the party, especially the men, were very angry and 
returned to their beds, after telling Sarah what they thought of 
her. Sarah only laughed. I myself felt nervous and annoyed, 
and Sarah must have seen this, for she passed her arm round me 
and led me to a buffet, where she gave me a little hot tea with 

26o Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

cognac and lemon in it. This warmed and strengthened me, and 
I decided to stay. 

The party kept on till four o'clock, with Sarah and Damala 
behaving like two children in their teens. There was a fearfully 
fascinating Prince there— Dimitri something, his name was— and 
he devoted himself to me, as the youngest and therefore the 
most innocent of the party. I was sixteen or seventeen — I 
forget which. At any rate, it was all perfectly wonderful to 

People kept arriving and departing as casually as they 
had come. All St. Petersburg seemed determined to make the 
acquaintance of Sarah Bernhardt, and the throng round her 
was tremendous, with the result that many who wanted to 
talk to her had to content themselves with the other members 
of the company. 

My Prince was courtesy itself. He was quite young, and very 
distinguished-looking ; and I heard it stated that he was related 
to the Royal family. But I never found out the exact relation- 
ship . . .in fact, Russia was such a whirl for me that I carried 
away very few facts and decidedly mixed impressions. Everyone 
was charming. 

We were feted night after night in the most gorgeous way. The 
Grand Duke Michael — I think it was he — opened up his palace, 
which looked like a fortress, to us one night and we gave a brief 
performance there. After that we danced. Several of the Grand 
Dukes were there, and so was my Prince, who presented me to 
his wife, a gracious lady with that air of innate breeding which 
only the Russians, the English and the Danes seem to possess. 
The fact that Prince Dimitri had his wife there did not prevent 

Sarah Bernhardt in Les Boufions, 1906. 

Photo, Henri MamidJ] 

p. 260. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 261 

him paying attention to me, and I had a wonderful time. I could 
have stayed in Russia for ever. 

We did not play in the Winter Palace, but gave a gala per- 
formance for their Imperial Majesties at the National Theatre. 
It was private, in that no seats were sold and could be obtained 
only through invitations sent out by the Court Chamberlain ; 
but when we saw the vast throng crowding the theatre it looked 
as if all Russia was there. And all wealthy and titled Russia 
probably was, for we heard that special trains had been made up 
to bring " Sarah Bernhardt sightseers " from Moscow and other 
famous cities. We were not to visit Moscow on this trip. 

I have heard many people say that anyone who has visited 
Russia can talk of nothing else and always longs to return there. 
I can testify that this is true in my case ; and I know also that it 
was true in the case of Sarah Bernhardt who returned to Russia 
three times and always spoke of the land of the Tsars with the 
warmest affection and feeling. 

I remember a gracious remark made by the Empress, a woman 
of no great stature and with evident marks of trouble on her sweet 
and modest face. When Sarah was presented and dropped 
her curtsey before her, she said : 

" I think, my dear, that I should be the one to bow ! " 

I thought it one of the most exquisite tributes I had ever 

We played Francois Coppee's Le Passant, La Dame aux 
Camelias, Hernani, and L'Aventuriere. The Emperor chose Le 
Passant for the Command Performance, and Sarah greatly 
appreciated his choice. 

" He must be a poet himself ! He looks like one ! " she said. 

262 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

This observation came to the Emperor's ears, and after the 
command performance was over he came down from his box on to 
the stage and shook hands with Sarah warmly. 

" You are the most wonderful actress we have ever seen in 
Russia, mademoiselle ! " he said, " and one does not need to be a 
poet to appreciate you ! " 

Alexander II. presented her with a magnificent brooch, set 
with diamonds and emeralds, as a remembrance of the occasion. 
She " lost " it on one of her trips to South America. 

What jewels that woman lost or sold ! The total would have 
staggered belief, had it ever become known. I suppose no actress 
ever possessed, at varying times, such wonderful jewels as did 
Sarah Bernhardt. Yet when her collection of gems was sold by 
auction in Paris after her death, most of the articles were found 
to be paste, and the whole collection fetched only a few thousand 
francs, and that chiefly for sentimental reasons. 

Damala and Sarah were seen together everywhere. He took 
her about, introduced her into that class of society to which he 
belonged by virtue of his official position, and seemed wildly 
infatuated with her. Whether it was really infatuation, or simply 
the desire to capture the love and be seen in the company of the 
most famous woman of her epoch, I shall leave to my readers to 

To me Damala was the most cold-blooded, cynical and worth- 
less individual whom I had ever met. I could not bear the sight 
of him. His very touch revolted me. And my feelings were 
shared by most of the company, so that when Sarah casually 
announced one day that Damala had resigned his official position 
in order to join her company, we were all more indignant than 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 263 

astonished. It had been evident from the first that he meant 
leaving St. Petersburg when she did. 

What Sarah saw in him I am at a loss to imagine. He was 
still extremely handsome — " beautiful " would be a better descrip- 
tion. He affected extreme dandyism in dress, and was eccentric 
in many of his habits. 

He was still coolly nonchalant in his dealings with Sarah and 
in this he was wise, for it was this cynical attitude of his, this 
disdain of her greatness and success, which had first attracted 
her to him and which continued to hold her interest and pique 
her curiosity. 

Once get a woman curious about a man, to the extent of 
wishing to seek his company, and the rest follows as night the 
day. . . . 

To other people, Damala would praise Sarah wildly. 
" She is the sun, the moon and the stars ! "he would exclaim. 
" She is Queen of the World ! She is divine ! " 

Sometimes these verbal extravagances reached Sarah's ears, 
but she never believed he had uttered them ! This was com- 
prehensible enough, for when he was with her his attitude was 
as different as possible. 

On some occasions he actually treated her as an inferior ! 
He would criticise her dress, her manner of doing her hair, her 
acting, her views on any subject, her deportment, her speech. 
He was always finding fault with her, and Sarah would fly into the 
most frightful rages when he carried his sarcasms too far. 

A hundred times she would cast him from her, with stormy 
admonitions never to come near her again, a hundred times she 
declared violently that she could not bear the sight of him, 

264 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

despised him, and refused to take such treatment from anybody, 
let alone a " Greek Gypsy." This was her pet piece of invective, 
for, as she was aware, it had the merit of piercing Damala's 
thick hide. As a matter of fact, Damala was every inch an 
aristocrat, even though he was a particularly degenerate one. 

In reply to these wild outbreaks on Sarah's part, Damala would 
adopt a peculiarly irritating attitude. He would take her at her 
word, leave her, and then send a note to the effect that he was glad 
to have rid himself at last of such an incubus ! 

Then he would stay away from her until she came to him 
and begged to be forgiven. That was what he wished and liked ; 
that was the pleasure his liaison with Sarah Bernhardt gave 
him — the idea of a proud and beautiful creature, idolised by 
two continents, crawling to him, Damala, on her knees, for 
forgiveness ! 

He would let people know about it, too. 

" I had my proud Sarah on her knees last night," he would 
say, " but I refused to forgive her ; she has not yet been punished 
enough ! " 

What a brute the man waS' — but how well he knew women ! 

The worse he treated her, the more she became his slave. 
The more sarcastic he became, the humbler was she. It had from 
the first been a struggle between two arrogant natures, and Damala 
had woU' — for the time being. There came a day, however, 
when his victory seemed empty enough. 

St. Petersburg talked much of Sarah's affair with Damala, 
as may be supposed. The two were so open about it. The Court, 
and the gentle little Empress, were shocked. There were no more 
command performances. Russian high society was beginning 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 265 

to look askance at this beautiful genius, who was so scornful 
of convention. 

The code in Russia was that a man could do what he liked. If 
his rank was high enough, he could commit murder without losing 
caste. But a woman had to walk within a strictly defined circle, 
which was drawn by the Empress herself. Once she stepped 
beyond that circle she could never get a footing inside it again. 
Sarah had stepped outside, and she did not care. 

Soon after this we left St. Petersburg, but not before an 
incident occurred which will bear relating, even though Sarah 
was not directly concerned in it. 

We were playing one night when, during the third entr'acte, 
I received a message from a call-boy who looked very awed and 
yet very important. 

" The Grand Duke V — — desires that you will go to his box," 
was the message. 

Grand Dukes counted for little in my life and I, a Republican 
to the backbone, was vexed at the peremptory fashion in which 
the request was framed. 

" Tell His Imperial Highness that I am not in the habit of 
going to private boxes during a performance ! " I said. 

The boy looked a little startled, but took my reply. In a 
few minutes he was back. 

This time there was no mistaking the character of the 

" His Imperial Highness presents his compliments to Mademois- 
elle Therese, and wishes to inform her that he will await her for 
supper, after the performance." 

In consternation I went to see Sarah. 

266 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" What shall I do ? " I asked. " I can't go to supper with 
the man ! " 

" Tell him to go away, then ! " suggested Sarah, who had not 
taken much interest in my story. But another member of 
the company, who knew Russia well, held up his hands in 

" You can't do that — it would be disobeying a Royal com- 
mand ! " he exclaimed. " When a Grand Duke puts a message 
in that form, it admits of but one reply. You will have to go to 
supper with him ! " 

" I won't ! " I replied, obstinately decided. 

" Then you will be thrown into prison ! " 

" What ! ThrowTi into prison because I refuse to sup with 
a Grand Duke ? What a ridiculous idea ! " 

" It's true, none the less. These men wield an enormous 
power. A mere word from them, and you would disappear and 
never be heard of again, and Grand Duke V — • — is the worst 
of the lot. You must remember that this is Russia ! " 

I was now terribly frightened. I looked for Sarah again, but 
she had disappeared. 

" What shall I do ? " I inquired of Pierre Berton, who had 
always been most kind to me. 

" I will go to His Highness and tell him you are ill," he suggested. 
But I would not hear of Pierre getting himself into trouble over 

So, after the performance, I waited in fear and trembling in 
my dressing-room. Several other members of the company 
were there also, curious and disturbed as to the outcome, while 
Pierre Berton had a positively ferocious expression on his face. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 267 

He looked as though he would like to eat all the Grand Dukes in 

This was the first intimation I had had regarding the true 
state of Berton's feelings towards me. His declaration of love and 
our marriage did not come until years later. 

Finally the Grand Duke came in. He was in full evening 
dress, and when seen near at hand appeared a most amiable 

He bowed to the company, and when one of the ladies dropped 
a curtsey, his eyes twinkled. I was thoroughly frightened, but 
when he held out his arm to me, I stepped forward in spite of 
myself. He was so thoroughly courteous ! Berton blurted out 
something indistinguishable, but fortunately did not interfere 
I went out with my Grand Duke. 

Well, the story has not the ending the reader may have been 
led to expect. The supper was a gay one, but all the men present 
behaved themselves quite properly and the Grand Duke was more 
like a father to me than a lover. Afterwards, he took me for 
a ride in his open barouche, and then accompanied me 

At the hotel, when they saw who had brought me back, they 
received me with open mouths. It was the Hotel Demouth, a 
little place but very smart, opposite the statue of Catherine the 
Great. I had moved there because the European was too 

The manager himself escorted me upstairs to my room and 
bowed me in. I had become a personage ! 

I told Sarah about it the next day, and she complimented 

268 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" However," she said, " nothing would have happened to 
you if you had not gone ! That same Grand Duke wanted me to 
dine with him the other night, and I said I would if I could bring 
Damala, and that finished it ! " 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 269 


Of all the tragic episodes that abounded in the life of Sarah 
Bernhardt, her marriage was probably the most tragic. 

The one man whom she adored sufficiently to marry 
betrayed her love, made her a ridiculous spectacle in the eyes of 
her theatrical comrades, ill-treated her to the extent of actual 
cruelty, and, after spoiling her life for seven years, died a victim 
of morphine. 

Nobody knows what caused their decision to marry. I know 
only one thing, namely, that not a member of the company was 
aware of their intention until a few hours before the actual cere- 
mony ; and then only Pierre Berton, Jeanne Bernhardt, Mary 
Jullien, and Madame Devoyod were let into the secret. 

I was taken ill on the voyage home from Russia and Sarah 
thought it best for me to return to France. Thus I did not go on 
to London with the company, and joined it only when it returned 
through Paris, on its way to Italy. 

What I know of Sarah Bernhardt 's marriage is therefore hear- 
say — only what Pierre Berton told me. The event must have made 
him miserable, poor man ! I am sure he adored Sarah still, although 
weary of her caprices. 

Berton was a very conscientious and honourable man ; and 
his was the restraining influence in the Bernhardt company, 
whereby many pitfalls were avoided owing to his sage counsel 

270 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Sarah Bernhardt 's once tender feeling for him had changed into 
one of extreme respect. She recognised the power of his intellect 
and admired his wisdom, and never forsook him, both because he 
was a marvellous actor of great drawing power and because he was 
a counter-balance in the scales to outweigh her ruinous escapades. 

A great many of the company, having very good reason to 
hate Damala, desired to leave at once, when Sarah married him ; 
and it was Pierre Berton who persuaded them to stay on in 
order to support Sarah in the trials which he knew she would 
shortly have to endure. 

Sarah and Damala may have decided to marry during the 
voyage from Russia ; but knowing them both as I did, I am in- 
clined to believe the thing was arranged on the spur of the 

One could and can do such things in London. They are 
impossible in Paris, where the consent of parents is obligatory, 
even in the case of those who are no longer minors, and where at 
least a month is always consumed in absurd preliminaries and 
red tape. 

I firmly believe that, had it been necessary for Sarah to get 
married in France, she would never have done it ! Such a 
decision, in her case, required to be made and carried out prac- 
tically on the spot, while she was under the influence of one of her 
fantastic moods. Marriage to her, I am sure, was not the solemn, 
semi-religious event that it is in the lives of most women. For 
her it was merely another escapade' — the crowning one, if you 

Almost everything else on the list of follies she had committed* 
Why not marriage ? 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 271 

That, at any rate, is the opinion I have always held. But 
Berton had a graver conception of the matter. 

In his view Sarah was so tremendously infatuated by Damala 
that she married him to make him wholly hers. He used 
to say : 

" She lived in constant terror that Damala's fancy would 
change, that some other woman would cross his path, and that 
he would leave her. 

" She was completely under the fellow's domination. If any 
good man, of high and noble principles, had offered Sarah his 
name, she would have refused him scornfully ; she would have 
answered that she would tie her life to no man's. 

" But with Damala it was another matter. It was she who 
desired passionately to hold him- — not the reverse. At least, such 
is my belief. Sarah too, when she remembered how easily she 
had fallen a victim to it herself, was often much perturbed 
at seeing how quickly women were captured by Damala's fatal 

" She could think of no way to bind him to her except by 
marriage. So, despite her distaste for the orthodox union, she 
determined on the ceremony. 

" She waited until we got to London, where such things can 
be done over-night, and then took advantage of one of Damala's 
affectionate spells to persuade him to marry her. He agreed ; 
a priest was sent for, and they were married' — all in the space of 
a few hours." 

Damala always declared this version to be true — that it was 
Sarah who proposed to him and not he to her. Moreover, in 
fits of temper, he would tell her so before the whole company. 

272 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" If I had not been crazy I would not have been caught so 
easily ! " he would cry, beating the air with his arms. 

By marrying Damala, Sarah thought to bind him to her. It 
was the supreme mistake of her life. Instead of keeping him, 
she lost him. 

She simply exchanged a lover for a husband, and many women 
have found to their cost what that means. Sarah's disillusion- 
ment came only three weeks later. 

Until the marriage, Damala had been more or less faithful to 
Sarah — as faithful as a nature like his allowed. But he had 
scarcely stepped down from the altar with his bride, than he 
began betraying her right and left. 

He demanded that she should change her stage name to 
" Sarah Damala " in his honour, and when she refused he walked 
out of the house and disappeared. 

Performances had to be abandoned during the three days he 
was away. Sarah was absolutely frantic. She was ready to 
believe anything- — that he had deserted her for good, that he 
had fallen into the Thames, that he had run away to France, that 
he had committed suicide, that he had gone away with another 

This last theory — and Sarah would rather have lost an arm 
than that it should have been found true — was the correct one. 
Damala, previous to his marriage and unknown to Sarah, had 
struck up a friendship with a Norwegian girl whom he had met 
on board ship. It was with her that he spent those three days, 
scarcely a week after his marriage to Sarah. 

Paris, which had gasped at the news of the wedding, was 
in spasms of mirth at this new unhappiness which had over- 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 273 

taken Sarah. It so perfectly agreed with what everyone had 

" She is mad ! " said Auguste Dane, the writer, when he heard 
of the marriage through a letter that Berton wrote to me. " He 
will leave her within a week ! " 

I remember the words so well, because they so nearly came 

In a few days Damala returned, to find Sarah ill from anxiety 
and bruised pride. God knows what his excuses were, what 
methods he took to win his pardon ! A woman in love is ever 
ready to believe, and Sarah was no exception. 

The next day they were together again as usual. 

The company went to Ostend, where it played five nights. 
On the last night Damala disappeared again, and was heard from 
two days later in Brussels, whither he had gone with a pretty 
Belgian acquaintance. 

He rejoined Sarah in Paris, and Sarah forgave him again. 
He would pretend to be ill and win her pity ; and once pity takes 
the place of resentment in a woman's heart it is not difficult for 
a clever man to obtain everything he wishes. 

With every month of their married life, Damala's behaviour 
deteriorated. It began to be said of him that he was the most 
unfaithful husband in all France, which was saying a good deal. 

" I saw Damala at the theatre last night," somebody would 

" With Sarah ? " 

" Sarah ? No, of course not, imbecile ! Sarah is now his 
wife ! " 

And so it went on. 

274 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Accustomed to facile successes with women, Damala carried 
his infidelities to extremes. In almost every town they visited 
there was a new betrayal to register ; and Damala now scarcely 
took the trouble to conceal his double life from Sarah. 

One can imagine the mortification all this caused to such a 
proud nature as hers. 

From being the idol of two hemispheres she was fast becoming 
(as she knew well) the laughing-stock of France ; and the sole 
reason for her misfortunes was her insane action in marrying a 
man who did not understand even the first principles of honour. 
In place of a ring he had given her a cross to bear ; and the 
cross was the condescending amusement of the multitudes who, 
a few months previously, had been ready to fall down and worship 
her as a demi-goddess. 

" She cannot be much, after all," said the man in the street. 
" See, her husband betrays her right before her eyes ! " 

" All those stories about her must have been true ! " thought 
the staid and virtuous members of society. " Even her husband 
cannot live with her for more than a month ! " 

The cruellest fact about mob-psychology is that a mob is 
invariably ready to believe the worst. The Parisians now 
discovered with in tense satisfaction that their idol's feet were 
made of clay. 

" C'est le ridicule qui tue," declared a great French essa3nst. 
Ridicule was killing Sarah. 

Never before had I seen Sarah Bernhardt suffer so fearfully 
from the ravages of jealousy, nor did she ever suffer so again. 

Her face, within a few short months, lost that girlish look which 
had been its greatest charm. Lines came to features that had 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 275 

previously been clear of them. She became dispirited ; could not 
be consoled ; would sit for hours by herself ; seemed to take little 
interest in what was going on about her. 

Then Damala would return, like a truant schoolboy ; and, after 
the usual scene of anger, all would be well — until the next time. 

" Tu esfolle — ilfaut prendre ton parti ! " (" You are foolish' — 
you should make up your mind to make the best of it ! ") I told 
her repeatedly. 

One day at Genoa, Damala and an actress, whom Sarah had 
dismissed on suspicion of a liaison with her husband, left the 
company and went to Monte Carlo. 

Sarah was seized with a frantic fit of jealousy, stopped all 
performances (in spite of the tremendous loss this occasioned her); 
and wrote letters every hour pleading with Damala to return. 

The only reply he made to these overtures was a curt note in 
which he informed her that he had lost 80,000 francs gambling 
at baccarat, and that if she would send him this money he would 
come back at once. 

Sarah sent the enormous sum and Damala kept his word. 
He returned — but still with the actress ! 

There was a tremendous scene in the lobby of the Genoese 
hotel where we were staying. Sarah's rage was directed against 
the woman. She ranted against her, threatened her with every- 
thing from physical violence to criminal proceedings, and ended 
by ordering her out of the hotel. 

" She has come back for the money you owe her ! " said 

C'etait le comhle ! Sarah went straight into hysterics. But 
when she recovered the woman was still there, and, moreover, had 

276 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

a legal claim on her for her wages, so that Sarah was forced to 

After this incident she had a respite from matrimonial storms 
for several weeks. Her world revolved in and about Damala, 
whom (at his own request) she created managing-director of the 
company, with his name, as such, billed in large type everywhere. 

This request of Damala's was his undoing. It opened Sarah's 
eyes as nothing else could have done to the real worthlessness 
of the man she had made her husband. 

Damala she knew to be congenitally unfaithful, but her 
pride could not endure the further discovery that she had married 
an incompetent. 

As manager of a theatrical company on tour he was a miser- 
able failure. He wasted thousands of francs, became tangled in 
his accounts, could not handle other people, had no genius what- 
ever for organisation. Had it not been for their affection for 
Sarah, the members of the company would have voted that it 
should be disbanded. 

Foolish contracts were made with theatres in strange towns, 
hotel arrangements omitted, trains missed, properties lost — 
all those incidents occurred which indicate bad management and 
which demoralise a company. 

To avoid a crash, Sarah allowed her business sense to domi- 
nate her other feelings, and there was a welcome return of her 
old authoritative character. We greeted with enthusiasm her 
domineering ways in place of Damala's blundering and bullying 

From Head of the Company, Damala became a mere Prince 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 277 

There was a disgraceful scene when she made her decision 
known to him. He called her horrible nameS' — " long-nosed 
Jewess " was one of the milder ones. 

Then, characteristically, he had his revenge by making open 
love to one of Sarah's lesser rivals. 

" If a man quit me for a Queen," said Lady Dudley, in the 
days of Elizabeth, " then I will be proud, for it will have taken the 
Queen to tear him from me ; but if a man quit me for a Duchess, 
then am I like to die of shame." 

Damala had quit his Queen for a Duchess, and Sarah was " like 
to die of shame " ; but she cured herself by writing Damala a 
letter, telling him never to return. 

Damala did return the next day, however, and in Sarah's 
absence carried off several articles of considerable value belong- 
ing to her. This happened in Paris after he had played with 
her in a piece at the Porte St. Martin theatre, which she 
had just purchased. 

Damala then returned to his abandoned diplomatic career, 
but his habits soon forced him to give up active work. 

Despite the fact that she had been born a Jewess and was only 
baptised into the Catholic faith, Sarah had strict ideas of a sort 
about religion. She refused to divorce Damala, contenting herself 
with a semi-legal separation whereby, in return for certain sums 
she sent to him monthly, he agreed never to re-enter her life. 

Five years later, however, Damala sent a message to Sarah 
saying that he was dying in Marseilles and imploring her to forgive 
him and take him back. 

The strength of the love which she must once have borne him 
is shown by the fact that, immediately she received this message, 

278 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

she abandoned her performances in Paris, rushed to the bedside 
of her husband — whom she found wasted from disease and drugs 
— and nursed him back again into some semblance of health. 

Damala promised to leave morphine alone and they went on 
tour together ; but the drug, to which Jeanne Bernhardt had 
already succumbed, proved too strong for him. 

Once, at Milan, he was nearly arrested for exhibiting himself 
naked at the Hotel de Ville (which is an hotel and not a town hall) . 
His body was a mass of sores occasioned by the drug. 

I was a member of the company on the famous tour Sarah 
made with Damala in Turkey. We played in Constantinople and 
Smyrna, and on taking the boat for Cairo we ran into a terrible 

Three times we tried to get into the Bay of Alexandria, and 
each time failed. Finally the ship was anchored until calmer 
weather came, Sarah was violently sick, and, on recovering, 
asked the steward to bring her the delicacies she had had brought 
on board for her own special use at table. 

These delicacies included several cases of champagne and others 
of fruit a.ndpdte defoiegras, of which Sarah was particularly fond. 

Imagine her fury when the steward returned with the informa- 
tion that Damala had eaten all the fruit and had consumed all 
the champagne, and that nothing was left for Sarah except the 
regular rough fare of the steamer. 

Shortly before his death, Damala was given a part by Sarah 
in the play Lena, at the Theatre des Varietes. During the 
second performance he was so drunk that he could not say a word. 

A few weeks later he died. Sarah was with him until the 
last. This was in 1889. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 279 


Except that those seven fearful years left their inevitable traces 
upon her appearance and mind, Sarah's imprudent marriage had 
wonderfully little effect upon her after life. 

Moreover, she never renounced the name of Damala, which 
remained her legal name until she died, though few people knew it. 

During the war the fact that she was legally a Greek caused 
her much annoyance, and once when there was a danger that 
King Constantine might throw his country into the war on the side 
of the Germans, she saw herself actually refused a visa to her 
passport by an officious nobody in a consular office at Bordeaux. 

" But I am Sarah Bernhardt, sir ! " she exclaimed. 

" My orders are not to grant visas to Greeks," said the official 
stolidly. " This passport is a Greek one and I will not endorse it." 

It required a special telegram from the Minister of the Interior 
himself before the obstinate clerk could be persuaded to change 
his mind. 

Sarah wore mourning for Damala for a year, but his death did 
not put a stop to her theatrical activities. If anything, she cast 
herself into her work with more eagerness than ever. 

The seven years of her marriage with Damala had been dis- 
tinguished by Sarah's first essay in theatrical management. To- 
wards the end of 1882 she acquired the lesseeship of the Ambigu 
Theatre — the play-house where, fifteen years earlier, she had 

28o Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

been refused a part by Chilly. It was announced that her son, 
Maurice Bernhardt, was to be manager. 

It is doubtful whether Maurice ever did any active manage- 
ment. He had little aptitude for such work, and Sarah was the 
supervising genius both at the Ambigu and the other theatres 
which she subsequently acquired. 

It was at the Ambigu that Sarah launched Jean Richepin. 
She mounted his play La Glu, which obtained an enormous 
success. She also played Les Meres Ennemies, by Catulle 

Exactly on what occasion Sarah Bernhardt and Jean Riche- 
pin were brought together I cannot say. I think they had known 
each other for a considerable period before their real association 
began. Sarah was much attracted to Richepin, who had a 
temperament very similar to hers by all accounts. 

Richepin's life had been almost as fantastically varied and 
adventurous as Sarah's own. He had been born of rich and 
influential parents, and educated at the Paris Normal School, 
an institution of considerable importance. 

He gave many evidences of precocity during his schooldays, 
and, after graduating, scandalised his former teachers and school- 
mates by impertinently opening up a fried-potato stand just 
outside the school gates. It was a way of expressing his 
individuality and his scorn of pedantries. 

After that he became a vagabond, journeying through the 
provinces of France on foot, sometimes begging his bread and 
sometimes working at odd trades for it. 

Of an extreme suppleness of body and delighting in acro- 
batics, he finally obtained a job in a travelling circus, where he 

Sarah Bernhardt in her Studio Dress. 

p. 280. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 281 

was destined to meet the woman whom he afterwards made his 
first wife. 

From then on he became an actor, unattached to any particular 
theatre at first, but gradually taking parts of increasing importance 
until he wrote Nana Sahib, in which he played with Sarah Bern- 
hardt. This play laid the real foundations of a fortune and 
celebrity which to-day are both considerable. 

While they were playing together in Nana Sahib, Sarah's great 
rival on the stage was Marie Colombier, the friend of the author 

The whole city was divided into two camps, the Bernhardt 
camp and the Colombier camp, and there was tremendous 
venom displayed on both sides. 

Performances at the theatre in which Marie Colombier was 
playing would be enlivened by bands of " Saradoteurs," who, 
taking possession of the galleries, would hoot and hiss and whistle 
until the curtain was rung down. 

The next night there would be, as like as not, a similar scene 
in Sarah's theatre, and often the police would be obliged to 
interfere to prevent a battle royal between the opposing factions. 

Two-thirds of the contents of Sarah's letter-bag consisted of 
flowers and presents ; the other third of insulting anonymous 

A score of times Richepin offered to challenge Bonnetain to a 
duel on Sarah's behalf, but was dissuaded from doing so. 

Finally Bonnetain wrote a book about Sarah, which was signed 
by Marie Colombier and entitled " Sarah Barnum." Bamum and 
Bailey's Circus was then the greatest attraction of Europe. 

None of the names in the book were real, of course, but they 

282 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

were so cleverly disguised that everyone in Paris knew for whom 
they were intended, though any proof might be impossible. 

Sarah had no remedy in the courts, so she took her revenge 
in another way. She and Jean Richepin- — at least, the way in 
which the book was written certainly greatly resembled Richepin's 
well-known style- — wrote and published a volume in reply which 
was entitled " Marie Pigeonnier," and in which exactly the same 
tactics were followed. 

The two books convulsed Paris and the several editions were 
quickly exhausted. Sarah's friends bought up " Sarah Barnum," 
and Marie Colombier's friends purchased all they could find of 
" Marie Pigeonnier." Sarah herself spent 10,000 francs in 
buying up every copy of the " Sarah Barnum " book she could 
lay hands on. 

A few copies escaped, however, and these can be found in 
certain Paris libraries to-day. 

They were really very clever books, beautifully written and 
full of very effective satire. 

Marie Colombier, in " Sarah Barnum," accused Sarah of 
drinking too much whisky, and Sarah Bernhardt retorted by 
asserting that Marie Pigeonnier delighted in absinthe. It was 
an amusing although scarcely polite controversy ! 

Jean Richepin is now one of the great and respected men of 
France. His romantic youth is almost forgotten in the eminent 
respectability of his age. He is probably France's most prolific 
classic author, and though he quarrelled bitterly with Sarah 
Bernhardt, his warm regard for her persisted until her death. 

Richepin is one of the most distinguished living members of 
the Academie Francaise and of the Institut de France. He 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 283 

is credited with having obtained for Sarah Bernhardt the Legion 
of Honour, after a long discussion as to whether an actress could 
be awarded a distinction which had hitherto been reserved for 

Sarah soon abandonded the Ambigu to play at the Vaudeville 
in Feodora, a play by Victorien Sardou. This had been arranged 
before Sarah left for America. Raymond Deslandes, director 
of the Vaudeville, paid her 1,500 francs — sixty pounds — per 

Later on, when Sarah took over the management of the Porte 
St. Martin, she made Duquesnel director, and Sardou and Duques- 
nel wished her to launch Theodora, another play by Sardou. 
Pierre Berton was against the innovation, and urged that Feodora 
should again be played. Sarah and Berton were now at daggers 

" My compliments " (wrote Sardou to my husband at this 
time). " You are right about Feodora — that is better than a 
new piece, which I know will be a failure. 

" But why do you wish Sarah to play Feodora where Gamier 
has no part ? It is Sarah, which is to say Gamier, who leads 
everything to-day in this lunatic asylum of which Duquesnel 
thinks he is the director but of which he is only a pensionnaire." 

This is an interesting revelation of Sarah's renewed friend- 
ship for Gamier, whose place Damala had usurped a few years 

Sardou's letters to my husband, never before published, throw 
a light on the dealings of the great actress with her dramatists. 

284 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Here is one showing Sarah's distaste for Berton's persistent 
advice : 


" Je regois une lettre de Sarah, fulminante confre vous, 
et qui n'a aucune raison d'etre. Je ne sais pas ce qu'elle s'est 
figure et j'insiste sur le mot.- — Car je me suis borne a dire k 
Grau que je vous avais vu, et que vous m'aviez dit qu'elle allait 
jouer La Dame {La Dame aux Camillas) ddcidement, et que vous 
jouiez Gaston — rien de plus ! C'est ce que j'^cris a Sarah, en 
lui declarant que sa colere est insensee en ce qui vous concerne. 
" En meme temps je lui dis ce que je pense de la Dame dans 
ces conditions, et de Duquesnel, qui la force a la jouer et qui 
ne voit pas qu'en cela il nuit a tout le monde, a Sarah, k moi, a 
Dumas, ! ! et a lui-meme." 

After this Sardou had a long and stormy interview with Sarah, 
urging her to play Theodora instead of La Dame aux Camelias, 
on which she and Duquesnel had decided. It ended in the great 
dramatist's defeat, and while his anger was still hot he sat down 
and wrote to Berton : 


" II n'y a rien a faire avec cette folle qui tue la poule 
aux ceufs d'or. Je connais ses projects — ^une Maria Padilla 
de Mailhac ! ! ! Maria Padilla ! ! Et de Meilhac ! Et une 
piece de Dumas ! Elle n'aura ni I'une ni I'autre, et compte 
alors se rattraper sur Froufrou. Elle va jouer Froufrou alors 
de septembre en mars ! 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 285 

" EUe est foUe, et plus on veut la tirer de I'affaire plus elle 
s'enfonce. Quant a moi j'en suis saoul et ne veux plus entendre 
parler d'elle. Si vous avez quelque chose d'utile ci me dire, 
venez me voir Dimanche vers quatre heures, car je suis pris 
tous les autres jours. Demain je vous aurais bien indique une 
heure a Paris, mais je n'aurai pas un moment a moi, et samedi 
j'ai conseil municipal. 

" Poignee de main, 

" V. Sardou." 

I give these letters in the original French, partly because 
they would lose greatly in translation, and partly because they 
have never before been seen in print, and are therefore an interest- 
ing contribution to the intimate story of Sarah Bernhardt 's life. 

Some phrases in the above are worth noting : " Nothing to 
be done with this idiot who is killing the goose that lays the golden 
eggs " ; " She is crazy, and the more one tries to save her the 
deeper in she sinks " ; " As to me, I am drunk of the whole affair 
and don't wish to hear her name again ! " 

Previous to the production of Theodora Sardou wrote to 
Berton : 


" II faudrait plusieurs pages comme celle-ci pour vous 
mettre au courant des negotiations relatives a Theodora et au 
mouvement tournant opere par Sarah. La encore une fois Duques- 
nel a recueilli le fruit de son irresolution. II fallait signer avec 
Grau le lendemain du jour ou il m'avait dit que c'etait chose 
faite. Mais vous connaissez I'homme. Pour ce que vous 

286 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

concerne 9a a ete plus simple. Sarah m'a declare qui si vous deviez 
jouer Andreas, elle ne jouerait pas Theodora en tournee, et comma 
il avait deja fortement question d'y renoncer, vu la certitude 
de ne pas la jouer en Belgique et en Russie, la depense du materiel 
a transporter etc., etc., la menace ne laissait pas d'avoir un cote 
serieux. Cela pouvait se traduire pour moi par une perte d'une 
vingtaine de mille francs ; j'ai du capituler, en exigeant toutefois 
que si vous jouez Justinien, le tableau du iv acte, qui est a 
lui, fut maintenu, condition formelle. 

" II est bien entendu avec Bertrand qu'il vous engage pour 
I'Eden, et nous avons, in petto, prevu le cas Andreas. Faites- 
vous payer. C'est bien le moins qu'on vous dedommage des 
sottes humiliations que vous infligent les caprices de cceur de 
la grande artiste. J'espere que le vent tournera, dans le cours 
de ces neuf mois, et que nous verrons une fois encore Damala 
renvoye a I'office. De toute fa9on, ne vous brouillez ni avec, 
elle, ni avec Bertrand, en vue I'avenir. Mille bonnes amities 

" V. Sardou." 

The interesting thing about the above letter is, of course, 
the proof that Sarah, during her disagreements with Damala, went 
back to Bert on, with whom she subsequently quarrelled after her 
reconciliation with Damala. 

The phrases which stand out are : " Sarah declares that if 
you play Andreas she will refuse to play Theodora on tour . . . 
which will mean a loss to me of 20,000 francs ... I was thus 
obliged to consent " ; " Make her pay you. It is the least 
return they can make for the low humiliations which the 
caprices of heart of the great artiste inflict on you." " By all 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 287 

means, do not break with Sarah or with Bertrand, because of 
the future." 

There came a day, however, after he had married me, when 
Pierre Berton could no longer stand these humiliations heaped on 
him by Sarah. He retired definitely from the stage to devote 
himself to dramatisation, his most successful play being Zaza, 
which was an enormous success both in England and America. 

288 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


During the rehearsals of Thdodora at the Porte St. Martin, 
Richepin invariably accompanied Sarah Bernhardt to the 
theatre. This enraged Victorien Sardou, for it was then and 
has since remained a matter of unwritten theatrical law that one 
dramatic author should not visit the rehearsals of another's play. 

Eventually Sardou made a scene one afternoon in the office 
of Duquesnel, the manager. I happened to be present, having 
had a previous appointment with Duquesnel. 

Beside himself with anger at the slights she was constantly 
heaping upon him, Sardou abused Sarah and Richepin, coupling 
their names in language of considerable vigour. 

Sarah, as it happened, was in an office next to that of Duques- 
nel, and heard every word. Bounding forth, she rushed into 
Duquesnel's office and cried : 

" I have heard all ! You are animals and pigs ! Richepin 
is an Hre delicieux ! I will not remain in your odious theatre 
another instant ! I refuse to play this pig's piece ! " — indicating 
Sardou, who was too much astounded to say a word. 

With that she flounced out of the theatre, leaving us in doubt 
as to whether the play could continue. 

On returning to her house, however, she was met by her maid, 
who said to her : 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 289 

" Monsieur Richepin has just been here and has taken away 
his things. He has left madame a note." 

Sarah tore open the note feverishly. A cry of mingled rage 
and despair escaped her. It was a note of adieu ! 

Immediately Sarah sat down at her writing-table and wrote 
to Sardou and to Duquesnel : 

" My dear friends, 

" I have reflected, you are quite right ; Richepin 
after all is only the latest of these voyous whom I have put out of 
my door. All shall be as you wish. 

" Sarah." 

It was only later that we learned from Richepin the true 

The one and only pantomime that Sarah Bernhardt ever 
played in was Pierrot, Assassin, by Richepin. 

This was a complete failure and only brought hisses and cat- 
calls wherever it was produced, but Sarah insisted on retaining 
it on her repertoire so that Richepin could have the authors' 
royalties. These were considerable, for Sarah cannily would 
only produce the pantomime once in each city, and her name 
alone was sufficient to fill the theatre. 

She took the thing all over Europe. When we were in 

Scandinavia she would tell us that the play was not a success 

because : " These Northerners do not understand the art of 

pantomime ; it is an art of the South ; you will see how they 

will applaud us in the south of France ! " 

But when we played in Montpellier, the students were so 


290 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

indignant that they demolished the interior of the theatre, 
and we had to steal out of the city in closed cabs during the night 
in order to escape their wrath ! 

Since that day Pierrot, Assassin has not been played. 

All this time she had kept up her friendship with most of the 
people who had surrounded her during her years at the Comedie 
Fran9aise in the seventies, and among these was Gustave 
Dore, the immortal illustrator of the Bible and of Dante's 
" Inferno." 

Her romance with Gustave Dore was one of the really illumin- 
ating episodes of her life. 

One night she was playing Clorinde, in L'Aventuriere. Dore, 
who was in the audience, was so charmed that he sent her the 
next day the original sketches he had made for the Gospel of 
St. John, considered among his finest work. In reply, she wrote 
to him and asked him to come to her dressing-room after the 

When Dore came, he had scarcely opened the door before she 
characteristically threw herself into his arms and kissed him on 
both cheeks. Dore was so astounded that, for a moment, he 
could not speak. This was the first occasion on which he had 
seen Bernhardt at close quarters, and in fact it was the first time 
he had ever been behind the scenes of a theatre. 

When Dore did not move nor speak, so great was his astonish- 
ment, Sarah flew into a temper. 

" Ah, you regret, you are sorry you sent me your pictures ! " 
she stormed. " You despise me." 

Dore threw himself at her feet, and kissed her satin 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 291 

" Madame," he said simply, " I do not permit myself to love 
a being so far above me ; I adore ! " 

This was not the beginning of their romance, however, for 
Sarah was then held in ties of intimacy with Georges Clairin, 
Dore's friend. 

But Dore joined Sarah's little intimate circle, and after the 
death of Damala he ventured to reproach her for abandoning her 
painting and sculpture. 

" It is because I have no teacher," she said sadly. She had 
quarrelled with Clairin, who had gone to live in the Midi. 

" Let me accompany you ! " suggested Dore. " I cannot 
teach you, but we will teach each other." 

Less than a week later it was common gossip in Paris that 
Gustave Dore and Sarah Bernhardt experienced a tender passion 
for each other. It is questionable, however, whether this was 
not a passing passion with Sarah' — although a very genuine one 
all the same. 

Dore was a handsome man of singularly fine physique. He 
was quiet, studious, and in his own field as famous as Sarah in 

He used to work on exquisite miniatures of Sarah, several of 
which are now to be found in private collections. 

Sarah and he spent one August sketching together in Brittany. 
They both wore corduroy trousers and carried easels, and people 
who did not know them took them for an old painter and his 
apprentice, never dreaming that the " apprentice " was the most 
famous actress in France. 

Sarah told me of an amusing incident that occurred during 
this painting odyssey. They had been walking all day, and dusk 

292 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

found them near a farmhouse. Entering, they asked for shelter 
for the night. 

After dinner Dore was shown to a bedroom, and the painter 
supposed that Sarah had been given another. But the next 
morning, on looking out of the window, he was amazed to see 
her washing herself at the yard pump, her clothes full of stiaw 
and filth. She was in a merry mood. 

" They took me for your boy pupil, and gave me a bed with the 
cow in the bam ! " she told him. 

During the first twenty-five years of her career, Sarah Bern- 
hardt earned considerably more than ;(^200,ooo. Most of this 
was made after she left the Comddie Fran9aise to become her 
own manager. At the Porte St. Martin, when she leased it, her 
profits were 400,000 francs annually. 

But she made her largest sums on tour. Altogether she brought 
back from the United States alone considerably more than six 
million dollars. 

But she was one of the most extravagant women who ever 
lived. She nearly always spent more than her income, and, when 
she was in debt and besieged by creditors (as often happened) 
she would organise another Grand Tour of America, or Australia, 
or Brazil, or Europe- — anywhere that promised her sufficit nt money. 

This was the real reason for her repeated tours, which made 
her internationally famous. 

She was still, despite the fact that she was advancing towards 
middle age, wonderfully beautiful and full of high spirits. 

In fact, these high spirits sometimes translated themselves 
into practical jokes, the point of which we might be pardoned 
sometimes for not seeing. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 293 

When I was a young girl, and none too rich, she saw me with 
my shoes sodden from walking in the rain, 

" Let me put them to dry," she exclaimed, removing them 
gently. Then, in a burst of her peculiar humour, she threw them 
in the fire ! And I had to walk home in my stockinged feet. 
She promised to buy me another pair of shoes, but I am bound to 
say that she never did. 

When Catulle Mend^s gave Sarah the principal part in Les 
Mhres Ennemies, he was the friend of Augusta Holmes, the cele- 
brated composer. They were both poor, and with his first 
profits from the piece Mendes bought his friend Zl green 
cloth gown, with long sleeves and a high collar. 

When Sarah saw the gown she cried : " What ! A fine woman 
like you, to hide your arms and shoulders ! How ridiculous ! " 

And, seizing a pair of scissors, she cut off both sleeves and 
sliced off the collar, while poor Augusta stood by, terrified to death. 
The gown now had a square decollete, it wa. true, but it was 
completely ruined. 

When a male friend came to see her, wearing a tall hat, it was 
a delight to Sarah to throw it on the ground and playfully dance 
upon it ! 

She was a trial to all who loved her, and she had tremendous 
difficulty in keeping domestics. Despite this, she finally estab- 
lished a household which remained with her for most of her later 

Her secretary was Piron, formerly of the Opera Comique, 
who could play on almost an}^ instrument. Her personal maid 
was Dominga, a Buenos Ayres dressmaker, who threw up her 
business to follow Sarah. Her valet was Antonio, a Tunisian 

;94 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Jew who spoke five languages and who was discovered by Sarah 
in far-away Chili. Her butler was Claude, and her dresser was 

It was during a performance of Jeanne d'Arc at the Porte 
St. Martin, in 1890, a year after Damala's death, that the 
accident, which eventually cost her her right leg, happened to 

She injured the right knee in falling while on the stage, and 
during the resultant illness, which was complicated by phlebitis, 
there was much talk of amputation. (This did not come until 
1915, however, and for the time being Sarah's limb was saved, 
thanks to the genius of the famous Doctor Lucas-Champion- 

An American impresario then in Paris (I think it was P. T. 
Barnum) went to Sarah and said that he had heard her leg was 
to be cut off. 

" I offer you 10,000 dollars for your limb for exhibition pur- 
poses," was his astounding proposition. 

Sarah's reply was to raise her skirts and to display wistfully 
the member, which had shrunk a good deal owing to the injury. 

" I am afraid that you would lose on your bargain," she said. 
" Nobody would believe that that was the leg of Sarah 
Bernhardt ! " 

In 1887 she made another Grand Tour of Europe, and in the 
following year left for a tour of the United States and Canada, 
which she repeated in 1889. 

At the conclusion of this latter tour she took over the Porte 
St. Martin, where she distinguished herself chiefly in the rules 

Jeaime d'Arc and Cleopatra. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 295 

In 1893 she acquired the management of the Renaissance 
Theatre, and in 1894 launched there another great dramatist — 
Jules Lemaitre, whose play, Les Rois, she starred in herself, and 
in which she obtained a great triumph. 

Her friendship with Jules Lemaitre was one of the most abid- 
ing and beautiful things in her life. It lasted from those success- 
ful days at the Renaissance right up to his death, which occurred 
only a few years before her own. 

She helped and encouraged him in his dramatic work, appeared 
herself in several of his plays, and, in his declining years, invited 
him for long months to Belle Isle, her home on the shores of 

Jules Lemaitre was the one man with whom she never quar- 
relled. His was such a perfect character, so sweet a spirit, that a 
dispute with him would have been impossible. 

And now Sarah was growing old herself, even though her spirit 
was still young. When she produced Les Rois she was just fifty 
years old. 

It was perhaps because her friendship with Jules Lemaitre 
was a spiritual association, rather than a love affair, that it lasted 
so long. They adored each other, but their mutual interest lay 
in their work together. 

Never a play of Lemaitre's was produced or a criticism of his 
published which Sarah did not see first ; and never a literary effort 
of Sarah's saw print without first having been subjected to the 
kindly criticism of Jules Lemaitre. 

It was a beautiful chapter in both their lives, and the last 
sentimental episode for each. For, after she became fifty years 

296 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

old, Sarah Bernhardt became more and more a worker, an apostle 
of energy, and less and less the ardent lover. 

Her affair with Edmond Rostand was the last great affair of 
passion in the life of Sarah Bernhardt. 

It merits a chapter to itself. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 29^ 


The first time Sarah Bernhardt 's name was publicly linked with 
that of Edmond Rostand was prior to the production of L'Aiglon. 

Sarah still pursued her studies as a sculptress, though not so 
assiduously as before. Sometimes a whole year would go by 
without her putting chisel to stone, and then she would have a 
burst of trenchant energy and work furiously on a bust for days 
and nights together. 

She was possessed of great determination, a trait which is 
generally allied to obstinacy, and she was remarkable among her 
friends for always finishing anything she started. She might, 
in the fits of temper which now were becoming rarer, break her 
sculptures or rip up her paintings after she had finished them, but 
she invariably completed them first. 

She liked to have famous men to pose for her. She seized on 
Victorien Sardou, a man of great irritability — as demonstrated 
by his letters reproduced in a previous chapter — and compelled 
the great dramatist to sit for her twenty-one times, during which 
she completed her famous bust of him in black marble. This is 
considered by many to have been her finest work. 

Occasionally, when people refused to sit for her or pleaded 
various excuses, she would trick them into submission. This 
was the way she managed to get Edmond Rostand and Maurice 
Maeterlinck to pose together. 

298 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Rostand and Maeterlinck were friends, and one night they 
accepted an invitation to dine at the home of the Countess de 

B , the occasion being in honour of the President of the 


Having some time to spare beforehand, the two men, who were 
then not nearly so celebrated as Edmond Rostand was when he 
died, or as Maeterlinck is now, called upon Sarah Bernhardt. It 
was three o'clock in the afternoon, and the Countess's dinner was 
fixed for nine o'clock at night. 

Nine o'clock came and passed, and then nine-thirty, and finally 
10 p.m. The Countess gave orders for the dinner to be served, 
at the same time sending messengers to the homes of the absentees, 
to inquire if there had been any accident. 

To her astonishment the messengers came back with the news 
that nothing had been seen or heard of the two poets since they 
had departed, shortly after lunch, to take tea with Madame Sarah 

Containing her anger, the Countess returned to her guests and 
explained that Rostand and Maeterlinck had been unavoidably 
detained. Then she privately sent two young guests to Sarah's 
house, with strict instructions not to return without finding 
out whether the distinguished and errant couple were still there. 

They had no sooner reached the portals of Sarah's home than 
the grille opened and out came Rostand and Maeterlinck, in a 
great hurry. 

" The Countess and the President of the Republic have been 
waiting for you for three hours ! " cried one of the messengers. 

It came out that, during their visit, Sarah had been seized 
with one of her modelling fits and had persuaded them to sit to 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 299 

her. When it was time for them to go, she had enticed them into 
a room she called her studio, which had glass doors, and turned 
the key on them there. 

When they turned round they perceived Sarah sitting on the 
other side of the transparent doors, calmly continuing her 

They rapped on the door, made faces at her, shouted, all to no 
purpose. Sarah went on working with her clay, rounding the 
figures into shape. 

" But the President is waiting for us ! " cried Rostand finally 
through the key-hole. 

Sarah's " voice of gold " came sonorously through the door : 

" It is a far greater honour, messieurs, to be a prisoner in Sarah 
Bernhardt 's hands, than to be a performing lion for the President 
of France ! " 

Rostand's courtship of Sarah Bernhardt remained one of 
the great episodes of his career. Though Sarah refused him 
repeatedly, and he afterwards married the famous Rosamonde, 
his friendship with the actress continued, and she was at once his 
inspiration and his mentor, as well as the co-author of his fame. 

Sarah was the first woman invited to see little Maurice Ros- 
tand on the day that he was born. 

And when Sarah herself lay dying, Rosamonde and this same 
boy Maurice were among the last to be admitted to her bed- 

Rostand used to write Sarah frantic letters, pleading his love 
for her. He sang her praises ever5rw^here he went, even in the 
cafes on the boulevards where he and his fellow litterateurs were 
wont to gather. 

300 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

" She is the Queen of Attitude, the Princess of Gesture, the 
Lady of Energy," he exclaimed once, in a poem dedicated to 

In 1896, after UAiglon was produced, he wrote : 

" The existence of Sarah Bernhardt remains the supreme 
marvel of the nineteenth century." 

As was the case in all her love affairs, except that with Jules 
Lemaitre, her high-strung temperament clashed frequently with 
that of Rostand, who was a wild and erratic youth. 

He was in the habit of meeting Sarah and supping with her 
after the theatre. Sometimes they would go for long drives 
together, Sarah sitting and listening attentively, while Edmond 
declaimed his latest poems. 

It was thus she heard for the first time the verse of L'Aiglon, 
which he and she created. She would criticise the dramatic 
construction of a play, and was no mean authority on verse. 
Rostand admitted afterwards that he owed everything to her 
shrewd coaching during those midnight drives through the Champs 
Elysees and the Bois de Boulogne. 

Once he arrived at the stage door of the new Sarah Bernhardt 
Theatre- — the old Opera Comique, which Sarah had leased from 
the City of Paris- — five minutes late. They had had something 
particularly important to talk over in regard to a forthcoming 
production, and Sarah could not brook delay. 

She left him a short, imperious note stating that she would not 
produce his play, since he took so little interest in it, and, moreover, 
she did not wish to see him again ! 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 301 

The next morning, when Sarah left her house to take her 
accustomed ride in the Bois, she discovered a haggard figure 
sitting on the doorstep. 

It was Rostand. He had stayed on the doorstep all night, 
hoping by thus humbling himself to be forgiven. 

Sarah was struck by his devotion, but more by the fact that 
he was shivering with fever. She took him into the house, and 
had him put to bed in her private apartment, and for three days 
she ministered to him while he recovered from a severe cold. 

She would not allow a domestic to approach the bedroom, 
even carrying Rostand his food and hot-water bottles with her 
own hands. During these three days she did not go near the 
theatre — and nobody in Paris knew where Rostand was ! 

It was during this sickness in Sarah's house that Rostand 
conceived (as he admitted afterwards) the first idea for L'Aiglon, 
which he composed for and dedicated to Sarah. L'Aiglon, as 
everyone knows, is the story of the King of Rome, Napoleon's 
son, who dies in exile. 

It had a moderate success when Sarah first produced it in her 
own theatre at Paris, but was an absolute triumph in London and 
New York. In the play Sarah takes the part of the young King 
of Rome. 

To me she once said : " L'Aiglon is my favourite part. I 
think I like it better than Tosca. At any rate, a poet wrote it 
with me in mind." 

" So did Fran9ois Coppee write Le Passant, with you in 
mind ! " I reminded her. 

Sarah was wistful. ' ' Yes, that is true, ' ' she answered. " Poor 
Fran9ois. He is a genius . . . but— he is not Edmond Rostand ! " 

302 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

L'Aiglon was not the first play of Rostand's that Sarah 

In 1896 the door-keeper of the Renaissance came to her with 
a worried look. 

" There is a wild man outside who wants to see you, madame," 
he said. 

" Who is he ? " asked Sarah. 

" He said Jean Richepin had sent him' — but I doubt it 
myself ; he looks like a savage." 

" Send your wild man to me," commanded Sarah, laughingly, 
and turning to me explained : " It is this boy Rostand, whom 
Jean spoke of. It appears that he is a poet, and quite a good 

I made as if to go, but Sarah stayed me. " Wait, we will see 
what he looks like ! " she said. 

It was thus that I was present at the first meeting between 
Sarah Bernhardt and Edmond Rostand. 

Sarah had her own fashion of greeting visitors. Her leg 
pained her if she used it too much — the phlebitis persisted — so 
she would remain seated. When anyone was announced' — 
especially a stranger^ — she would hold out her hand with a word of 
greeting, bid him sit down, and then cup her chin on her hands 
and look at him steadily, without a trace of expression. 

Few men there were' — or women either, for that matter — 
who could withstand the hypnotic appeal of those glorious blue 
eyes, which at fifty retained all the sparkle and fire of youth, 
together with the mysterious inscrutability of approaching age ! 

Sarah received Edmond in her customary manner, with 
myself an interested and, secretly, much amused spectator. 

Mme. Bernhardt's Sitting-room at her Last Home, 
56, Boulevard Pereire, Paris. 

Photo, Henri Manuel.] P. 302. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 303 

Rostand sat down, placed his hat and gloves on the floor 
beside him, and then turned to await Sarah's instructions to 

I saw then why the door-keeper had called him a " wild man." 
His hair was at least five inches long and was in the most in- 
describable tangle, as though it had not been brushed for months. 
It was matted over his forehead, on which beads of perspiration 
were standing. 

Rostand turned and looked at Sarah. Sarah, chin on hands, 
was steadily staring at him. It was an awkward moment for a 
young, aspiring poet ! 

Tremendously nervous, Rostand moistened his Hps and twice 
tried to speak. 

(t T 1» 

Sarah stared as before 

Sarah's expression did not change. 

Finally Rostand could stand it no longer. Seizing his hat 
and gloves he rose precipitately and dashed from the room with- 
out having spoken a word regarding his mission. 

Sarah screamed with laughter. 

" Eh Men ! " she exclaimed. " So much for our young 
poet ! " 

But when she went out of the theatre she was met by her 
coachman, who was in great agitation. 

" If it please, madame," he said, " there is a man sitting in 
your carriage, and he won't get out ! " 

A man sitting in her carriage ! It was like a pagan mount- 
ing the steps of an altar ! 

304 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Sarah hastened outside. Sure enough, there was her carriage, 
and there was a man in it. One look at his mass of hair and Sarah 
realised who he was. 

It was Rostand ! 

" Throw him out ! " commanded Sarah, while we stood by 
aghast at this sacrilege committed by an unknown poet. 

Then Rostand to my amazement found his voice. He stood 
up in the carriage and bowed to Sarah. 

" I don't wish to have to knock your coachman down a 
second time," he said, " so, madame, it will save time if I explain 
that I am going to ride home with you ! " 

" You are going to ride home with me ! " said Sarah. For 
once even her ready wit had forsaken her. 

" I came here to read you a poem, and I am going to read it ! " 
continued Rostand firmly. 

Sarah burst out laughing . 

"So be it ! " she cried cheerfully. " Jean told me that I 
should hear your poem, and if you cannot read it to me anywhere 
except in my carriage, why you may do it there ! " 

And she got into the carriage with him, and it drove off — 
much to our amusement, of course. 

But we were not astonished. Nothing that Sarah Bernhardt 
did had the power to astonish us any more. 

The poem which Rostand read to Sarah as they drove about 
in her carriage — it was the first of a score of similar rides, for 
which it established the precedent — was part of his play, La 
Princesse Lointaine, one of the sweetest poetical dramas ever 

Sarah produced it six months later and it was a great success. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 305 

In fact, it made Rostand as a playwright, and paved the way 
for his triumph in L'Aiglon. 

He was enormously grateful to Sarah and his gratitude was 
the foundation of his love for her. 

Sarah's association with the Rostands did not cease with the 
death of the great Edmond. When he died he directed that if 
ever his famous property, Arnaga, near Biarritz, was sold, Sarah 
Bernhardt should be given the first opportunity to acquire it. 
But when it finally went under the hammer it was bought by 
a South American, and this happened a few weeks after Sarah 

When it was first put up for auction there were no bidders, 
since the reserve price had been set at two million francs. 

" I am too poor even to purchase a lot in a cemetery," Sarah 
said at the time, and, in fact, she was at that moment having 
difficulties over payments for work on the tomb built for herself 
at Belle Isle — a tomb in which she will perhaps never lie because, 
five days before her death, the property was sold. There is talk 
now that the purchasers, who are transforming the property into a 
Bernhardt Museum, will petition that her body may be brought 
to its ordained resting-place. 

Sarah early recognised the budding genius in the boy Maurice 
Rostand, son of Edmond. She encouraged him in every way, 
and she returned to the stage after the Great War in order per- 
sonally to appear in his La Gloire, which is conceded by critics to 
be a masterpiece. 

Maurice Rostand is a peculiar individual to look at, and there 

are many stories about him ; but there is no doubt about it — 

he is Edmond Rostand's son and a worthy successor of his great 


3o6 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

father. Maurice Rostand is a genius. And Sarah Bernhardt 
was the first to recognise genius in him, as she had been the first 
to recognise it in his father. 

Let me read to you what Maurice Rostand wrote the day that 
Sarah Bernhardt died : 

" Since yesterday, Poesy and her Poets are in mourning. The 
muse of Shakespeare and of Musset carries crepe upon his shoulder 
of gold ! Phedre has died a second time ! And a poet feels in 
the shadows about him a thousand wounded heroines who cry ; 
and their immortal verses, like useless bees, search in vain for lips 
whereon to rest ! 

" Permit me, however, to render homage to Her who has taken 
with her to a radiant tomb all the lyricism of an epoch ! Permit 
me to render homage to the living poesy of Sarah Bernhardt ! 

" Yes, she herself was the theatre poetique ! The heroes of 
poets, on the dangerous road of the centuries are in danger of 
succumbing, and more than one disincarnated heroine would not 
reach the far country without the helping hand of genius such as 

" To affirm their existence, it is necessary from time to time 
that a heart of fire and passion cause their passions and their 
pains to live again. Lorenzaccio, the young debauche, for 
having one night taken this voice of crystal, is launched to more 
than eternity ! The sister of Ariane and her great sob of 
hete divine fills the world more profoundly. 

" The Poets are not so niggardly that they do not recognise to 
what horizons a voice like that can hurl their songs. You knew it, 
Musset? You knew it, my father ! . . . Thou knowestit,my heart. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 307 

" I write on the first midnight of her death, her first glacial 
night, when shaken by Her I have contracted from her passage 
an insulation which is the proof itself of her astra. This insulation 
the whole of an epoch has received, and the trace of her 
passage has glorified the poets, even when she was not saying their 
verse. The beauty and the genius of Sarah Bernhardt made 
the shadow of Herself penetrate into all the arts she epitomised. 
Who knows in what measure the genius of Gabriele d'Annunzio 
has not warmed itself at that Great Flame ? I have recognised 
in more than one of these sisters of voluptuousness and of fever 
She who was Divinity in La Ville Morte ! One finds her every- 
where. Here in a poem by Swinburne ; there in prose by Wilde, 
in an arabesque by Beardsley, in a motif by Claude Debussy, in a 
song of Maeterlinck. . . . 

" Burn, immortal tapers, before her great Memory ! " 

Who shall say that this was not the voice of Edmond Rostand, 
living again through the charmed pen of his son ? 

3o8 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 


Sarah signed the lease with the civic authorities of Paris to run 
the Theatre de I'Opera Comique, on the Place du Chatelet, in 
November, 1898. She immediately changed the name to Theatre 
Sarah Bernhardt, and on January 18, 1899, she opened it with 
Adrienne Lecouvreur. 

This was a curtain-raiser, so to speak, and it soon gave place 
to L'Aiglon, which has been consistently included in that theatre's 
repertoire ever since. 

By a singular irony of coincidence L'Aiglon was being played 
at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt on that sad night, the twenty- 
sixth of March, 1923, when the world of art and drama was 
thrown into mourning by her death. 

It was at the Theatre de I'Opera Comique, it will be remem- 
bered, where Sarah saw her first play as a little girl. And it was 
there that she played her last. 

Although it was to be nearly a quarter of a century before the 
final curtain fell, Sarah found her energy, though not her fortitude, 
diminishing. Further and further her sentimental life was being 
pushed into the background, as the cares of business and of 
management weighed on her. 

She moved to a little red-brown house on the Boulevard 
Pereire, and there at last, after all her wanderings amongst the 
different quarters of Paris, she found a permanent home. Into 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 309 

it she brought the accumulated treasures of a lifetime spent in 
travel, including gifts that had come to her from every corner of 
the globe. 

She installed herself in this house alone with a secretary, 
for her son was married now and living in a street near-by, in a 
home of his own. 

Here also she brought the waiter Claude, who loved to call 
himself " I'ecuyer de Sarah Bernhardt," or " Sarah Bernhardt 's 
butler," and Felicie, her maid. 

Sarah was very particular over her table. She insisted on 
the best. Although she herself ate frugally, her guests were 
always given the choicest that could be procured. 

Sarah was a vegetarian— she remained so, in fact, all her life 
although on one or two occasions perhaps she may have pecked 
at a bird, a slice of venison, or a similar dainty. 

In the morning, at eight o'clock, she would partake of an 
orange, a light roll, and drink a cup of weak tea. The orange- 
for-breakfast habit she acquired in America, where fruit 
customarily precedes the first meal of the day. 

Then she would work until noon, when she would be served 
with her only real meal— an omelette, perhaps, and a piece of fish, 
and more fruit. Until she was thirty-four she never tasted cheese 
—it offended, she said, her esthetic sense '.—but when she grew 
old, a light gruyere or a Pont-1'Eveque was a favourite dish of hers. 

At five in the afternoon she had an invariable glass of cham- 
pagne, and at seven an ceuf souffle or something similarly light. 
For years her diet was prescribed by doctors, and never a week 
went by after 1890 that Sarah Bernhardt was not examined by a 

310 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Despite the accident to her leg and the subsequent phlebitis, 
which grew more serious with every recurrent attack, Sarah con- 
tinued to act in the plays she produced at the Theatre Sarah 
Bernhardt. One after another she produced L'Aiglon, Hamlet, 
La Sorciere, Le Proces de Jeanne d'Arc, La Belle au Bois Dormant, 
La Beffa, La Courtisane de Corinthe, Lucrece Borgia, Les Bouffons, 
and Jeanne Doree. 

Thrice, after she opened her theatre, she undertook long, 
fatiguing tours of America and Europe, and once she went to 
Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. " Bernhardt 's Circus " 
was what her travelling company was facetiously nicknamed 
by the Paris press — the fun and criticism of which, however, had 
grown considerate and kindly. 

" Sarah Bernhardt is a national institution ; to criticise her 
is like criticising the Tomb of Napoleon," said Le Journal des 
De'bats one evening. 

The Prince of Wales, who was shortly to become King Edward 
VII., was a warm friend of Sarah Bernhardt, and on one well- 
remembered occasion paid an informal visit, together with the 
Princess of Wales, to her home in Paris. 

" What did you talk about ? " I asked, the next day. 

" Dogs and dresses," said Sarah promptly. 

" The Prince," she continued, " is tremendously interested 
in dogs, and there we have a common ground." 

Once the Prince called on Sarah in her dressing-room — this 
was when she was at the Renaissance. 

Word was sent in advance, of course, that he was coming — and 
she was requested to be ready to receive him at ten o'clock. At 
that hour she was customarily on the stage, and her entourage 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 311 

was excited at the possibility of her not being there to receive the 
Royal visitor. 

The stage-manager suggested advancing the time of the whole 
piece, so that the third act would be finished by ten, but this did 
not suit Sarah, who knew that such an arrangement would make 
many people who had purchased seats miss a part of the first act. 

She settled it in her own characteristic fashion. 

" Let him wait," she said. " After all, he isn't King 
yet ! " 

At ten o'clock — punctuality is the politeness of kings — the 
Prince arrived. When Sarah returned, she found him in the 
wings, watching the life behind the scenes with intense interest. 
It being draughty there, he had not removed his hat. 

He advanced his hand, but Sarah kept hers at her side. She 
was in one of her haughty moods that evening. 

" A King may wear his crown, but a Prince must remove his 
hat in the presence of a lady," she said loftily. 

The Prince snatched his silk hat from his head, blushed deeply, 
and murmured a confused apology. It was probably the one 
occasion in his life when a woman treated him with such scant 
consideration for his Royal dignity ! 

After the famous dinner " en famille " given to the Prince and 
Princess of Wales by Sarah^ — it was supposed to be strictly secret, 
but Sarah saw that it leaked into the papers ! — she received a 
note from one of the ladies-in-waiting to the Princess, who, with 
her Royal husband, was living at the Hotel Bristol in the Place 

" Her Royal Highness was much interested in the gown which 
Madame Bernhardt was describing to her last night, and wonders 

312 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

whether Madame Bernhardt could spare her a few minutes this 
morning to consult with her regarding it." 

Truly a strange message to be sent by a Princess to an actress ! 

Sarah visited the hotel and had another long chat with the 
Princess, whose beauty and grace were the talk of Paris. They 
talked of a good deal besides dresses. The Princess loved to 
speak of her beloved Denmark, which Sarah knew well, and they 
recalled the first occasion on which Sarah went there, just after 
she left the Comedie Fran9aise, when the Princess was also visiting 
her native country. 

Sarah gave the Prince a Swiss shepherd-dog, and he, after 
becoming King Edward VII., sent her an Airedale puppy. This 
puppy came to an unfortunate end shortly afterwards. It died 
in agony as the result of being bitten by Sarah's pet panther?^ 

After he came to the throne. King Edward VII. and Queen 
Alexandra invariably " commanded " a performance whenever 
Sarah was in London. It might be at Windsor, or at Sandring- 
ham, or in London, but afterwards the kindly King and the lovely 
Queen of England would carry Sarah off for a confidential chat in 
the homelike atmosphere of their private apartments. 

Sarah had hundreds of reminiscences to relate regarding her 
two Royal friends. How she loved Queen Alexandra ! 

In 1904 Sarah had another and severe attack of phlebitis 
while on tour in America, and lay ill for a long time in San Fran- 
cisco. It was thought then that she would eventually lose her 
limb The poison was gradually creeping upwards, and she could 
not put her foot to the ground without intense pain. She 
remained a fortnight in bed, with her leg held up by a pulley. 

Sarah's fortitude throughout her long trial was amazing. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 313 

As soon as her foot became sufficiently well to stand upon, she 
insisted on returning to the theatre. 

Finally, when she was playing in Bordeaux in the early spring 
of 1915 she had another and more critical attack, and was taken 
to Dr. Moure's private clinic. 

Dr. Pozzi, the famous surgeon, was sent for from Paris, but 
after examination he shook his head. 

" Amputation cannot save her," he said, and he refused to 
undertake the operation. 

Another doctor was sent for. Dr. Denucce, also a great surgeon. 
Dr. Denucce put the situation squarely before the actress. 

" There is one hope for you — amputation — but it is a chance in 
a thousand, for the infection has reached the spine," he told her. 

Sarah heard her sentence calmly. 

"Cut it off ! " she said. 

When they laid her on the operating table, they tried to cheer 
her with words of encouragement, but Sarah's brave smile shone 

" I have already faced death seven times," she said. " If 
this is when my light is to go out, I shall not be afraid ! " 

She was in a terrible condition, not only physically but 
financially. The operation was a success, but she had not a cent 
with which to pay the clinic or the doctors. The Rothschilds 
and their friends finally came to the rescue. 

" All my life, it seems, I have been making money for others 
to spend ! " she said, but with no complaint in her voice. 

She faced her future then, penniless after the millions she 
had earned, and with one leg, as courageously as she had returned 
to face a jeering Paris after her first visit to London. 

314 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

By the irony of fate her sick-room at Bordeaux was filled with 
flowers worth literally thousands of pounds, that had been sent 
from all quarters of France by her worshippers. 

" If I only had the money these flowers cost ! " she remarked 

The war was on, and the ambulance in which she was being 
taken to the station on her way back to Paris overtook regiment 
after regiment of soldiers on their way to the Front. 

" La glorieuse blessee," the papers called her, and the soldiers 
thronged about the ambulance and her car on the train, taking the 
flowers that decorated their bayonets and throwing them at the 
indomitable genius who sat inside it with tears in her eyes. 

Within six months Sarah herself was at the Front, playing from 
an armchair for the poilus who were battling to check the invader. 

She was then seventy-one years old. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 315 


When she was asked by a journalist in 1898 to describe her 
" ideal " Sarah Bernhardt replied : 

" My ideal ? But I am still pursuing it ! I shall pursue it 
until my last hour, and I feel that in the supreme moment I 
shall know the certainty of attaining it beyond the tomb." 

In these few words lie the expression of Sarah Bernhardt 's 
whole life. 

Indefinable as perhaps her ideal was, it was the star that guided 
her throughout her long career. It was that grasping after the 
unattainable, that desire to take the one more step ahead, that 
cuUe du parfait, as Rostand expressed it, that inspired her battles 
and illuminated her art. 

Shortly after she moved to the Boulevard Pereire, she pur- 
chased the Fort des Poulains, on Belle Isle-sur-Mer, on the coast 
of Brittany, and here she spent the summers of her convalescence, 
surrounded by faithful friends and members of her family. 

She built a magnificent house at Belle Isle, and another 
building on the farm adjoining it. This she called " Sarah's 
Fort," and it was consecrated to the great tragedienne. Here 
she would spend hours in the company of her son, or with Jules 

3i6 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

Lemaitre, or some other trusted friend, and here she was safe 
from the cares and worries of her business in PariS' — for she 
still retained the active management of the Theatre Sarah 

" It is," said the Illustration recently, " with a real sentiment 
of satisfaction that we learn that the Fort des Poulains, the property 
of Madame Sarah Bernhardt at Belle Isle, is to become a museum 
consecrated to the great tragedienne and is not to become a tourist 
hotel and dancing-place, as had been reported. By a sentiment of 
respect and piety, the group which has purchased the property 
has so decided. They will try to bring to the property a collec- 
tion of souvenirs of the great artiste, and tourists will thus be 
able to visit the surroundings which were so dear to Sarah Bern- 
hardt 's heart. . . . What souvenirs are attached to Belle Isle, 
where La Princesse Lointaine will sleep one day perhaps her last 
repose ! " 

Once when in Florida, Sarah expressed the desire to hunt an 
alligator. There was no alligator in that region, and the local 
admirers of the artiste were in despair until it was remembered 
that the druggist of the town possessed a baby alligator, which at 
the moment (it being winter) was tranquilly asleep. 

He consented to give the creature for the purposes of the hunt, 
and it was placed secretly in a marsh near-by. The next day 
Sarah was told that the hunt had been organised. She was 
delighted beyond measure and gaily walked the five miles to 
the spot, where the sleeping alligator was captured without any 

Maurice Bernhardt was at Belle Isle at the time and Sarah 
sent him the alligator, together with a letter telling her son that he 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 317 

did not need to be afraid of it, for it was a " quiet little thing " 
and had not even made a move since it had been caught. 

But, unfortunately, when the alligator arrived at Belle Isle, 
it was its time to wake up, and it became a formidable customer — 
so dangerous, in fact, that before Sarah could arrive to view her 
capture in its new home it had to be killed. 

Sarah had a regular colony of dogs, horses, and birds on the 

After the war she announced her intention of returning to 
the stage, one-legged though she was. There was a chorus of 
protest, which, however, had no effect upon her. 

Money had to be earned, and it seemed as though she was the 
only member of the family who could earn it ! So she returned 
to the stage, in Athalie, and was given on the opening night what 
was possibly the greatest ovation of her career. 

Then Louis Verneuil, a talented young poet who had married 
her beautiful grand-daughter Lysiane, wrote a play specially 
for her — Daniel. It was the story of a young author, victim of 
opium. In it Sarah had no need to move, but spoke her lines 
sitting in an armchair and lying on a couch. Even thus, her 
tremendous personality and her magnificent voice dominated the 

Sarah next played in a one-act play, Le Vitrail, by Rene 
Fauchois, at the Alhambra. Then she produced Regine Armand, 
and, finally, created La Gloire, by Maurice Rostand. 

Not content with this almost superhuman labour, she was 
arranging to play with the Guitrys, at the Theatre Edouard VII. 
when, just before Christmas 1922, she was seized with an attack 
of her old enemy, uremia. 

3i8 Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 

I was among those who called at the little house in the Boule- 
vard Pereire on the night of December 31, when it was thought 
that she must die. But she rallied, and though all her friends 
and her family and she herself knew that it was but a temporary 
reprieve, she insisted on going back to work. Not this time, 
on the stage, but in her own house before the motion-picture 

A syndicate organised by a young American in Paris and 
directed by another American, Leon Abrams, made her an offer of, 
I think it was, 5,000 francs per day. She was, as usual, penniless, 
and the offer was a godsend. 

She posed for the film, with her chimpanzee, in the studio at 
the rear of her house. 

So needy was she that, just before lapsing into unconscious- 
ness for the last time, she demanded that the moving-picture men 
should be admitted to the bedchamber. 

" They can film me in bed," she said, her voice scarcely 
audible, so weak was she. " Now, don't object," as Professor 
Vidal remonstrated, "they pay me 5,000 francs each time I pose ! " 

Her insistence on fulfilling her contract to play in this cinema 
play was, according to the doctors, the cause of her last collapse. 
It was more than her strength could stand. She was really 
dying when she faced the camera on the last two occasions. But 
her indomitable will triumphed over her body almost to the last, 
and, until the dreadful malady paralysed her, she continued acting. 

My tears are falling as I write these last lines. They are 
difficult sentences to fashion. I am no poet, and words could not 
add to the drama of that night when the divine Call-boy came for 
Sarah Bernhardt. 

Sarah Bernhardt as I Knew Her 319 

She died at five minutes past eight o'clock, her snow-white 
head pillowed in the arms of her son, Maurice. 

"Be a good boy . . . Maurice." These were her last 
words. . . . The curtain descended. . . . 

That day, Monday, the twenty-sixth of March, Victor Hugo 
died for a second time. 

Even before she died, Sarah Bernhardt had outstripped Glory 
and had become Legend. 

Nothing of hers had faltered : not her intelligence, not her 
heart, not her talent, not her genius. She was complete. 

She was the glory and the light of the French theatre. The 
light that is extinguished will not flame again. How dark it 
seems ! 

Dead, she is greater than in life. WTio of us would not accept 
her luminous night ? 

Her epitaph, by Jacques Richepin : 





jBAn«i^ii>i^a 0£:.i^i. 





PN Berton, Therese Meilhan 

2638 Sarah Bernhardt as I 

B5B4.5 knew her